Benton County is one of the largest counties in the central portion of the State, containing twenty Congressional townships and an area of 720 square miles.
The surface is generally a beautiful and gently undulating prairie, and presents to the eye an extremely attractive appearance, enhanced by the numerous groves of native and planted timber which dot the face of the country. The soil in the lowlands near the river is sandy, but, as the prairie rises, the coil becomes a deep, black vegetable mold of surpassing fertility. The county is well-watered, and is peculiarly adapted to stock raising.
Rivers and Streams
Cedar River, a beautiful stream, which rises in Minnesota, enters Benton County at the northwest corner of Township 86, Range 10. Its general course is nearly south until it reaches Section 16, Township 85, Range 9, when it flows in a general easterly direction to the county line, in Section 13, Township 84, Range 9. Its course is very crooked, however, and it flows about forty miles in Benton County. It is a clear stream with a rapid current. On its banks in numerous places, a variety of fossil shells, corals, agates, carnelians and petrifactions are found.
The Iowa River flows about two miles across the southwest corner of the county, In Sections 31 and 32, Township 82, Range 12.
Big Creek, which flows northeast into Black Hawk County, runs across and waters Bruce Township (86—12). Rock Creek, Pratt Creek, Crooked (now Hinkle) Creek, Mud Creek, Opossum Creek, Wild Cat Creek, Little Bear Creek, Dry Creek, are all tributaries of the Cedar, which waters Benton County on the west and south of that river, and Bear Creek and several others on the east side.
Prairie Creek, another tributary of the Cedar, flows nearly across the southern tier of townships in the county. Buckeye Creek, a tributary of the Iowa River, in Township 82, Range 12, Iowa Township; Salt Creek, another tributary of the Iowa, waters Homer Township.
Timber and Groves
The various kinds of oak, hickory, maple, walnut, ash, basswood, elm, cottonwood, willow and hackberry flourish in the rich soil of Benton County.
"Cedar Timber," the timber skirting the Cedar River, especially on the north and east, in Polk, Harrison, Taylor and Benton Townships.
"Big Grove," a large grove of several thousand acres, in Township 84, Range 11, Big Grove Township.
"Scotch Grove," in northeast part of Township 82, Range 9, Florence, and extends into Linn County.
"Parker’s Grove," on Sections 26, 27, 33 and 34, Township 84, Range 9 (Canton).
"Ure’s Grove," on Prairie Creek, in Sections 14 and 18, Township 82, Range 9 (Cue, now Florence Township).
"Darnell’s Grove," on Prairie Creek, in Sections 20 and 21, Township 82, Range 9.
"Cue’s Grove," on Sections 16 and 17, Township 82, Range 9.
"Buckeye Grove," extends for several miles on the west side of Buckeye Creek, in Iowa, Township 82, Range 12.
"Van Meter’s Grove," on Section 32, Township 83, Range 11 (Union Township).
"Lost Grove," Sections 31 and 32, Township 84, Range 9 (Canton Township).
"Crab Apple Grove," Sections 31 and 32, Township 83, Range 9 (Fremont Township).
"Wild Cat Grove," Section 8, Township 84, Range 9 (Canton Township), a continuation of "Cedar Timber."
"Round Grove," Section 12, Township 84, Range 11 (Big Grove Township).
"Garrison’s Grove," in Sections 19, 29 and 30, Township 85, Range 11 (Jackson Township).
"School Grove," on Sections 15, 16, 17 and 22, Township 85, Range 11.
"Helm’s Grove," on Section 13, Township 85, Range 11.
"Yankee Grove," on Sections 15 and 22, Township 85, Range 12 (Monroe Township).
"Brush Grove," on Section 31, Township 86, Range 12 (Bruce Township).
"Spencer’s Grove," on Sections 2, 3 and 11, Township 86, Range 9 (Polk Township).
The southwest has but little timber, except in Iowa Township and along Prairie Creek, where there are some small groves. Added to this amount, nearly every farmer in the county has planted a grove of cottonwood, silver-leaf maple, or other fast-growing wood, which have now reached a sufficient size to be extensively used for the ordinary purposes of fencing and fuel. The broad prairies of the county are thus dotted over with cultivated groves, which not only beautify an adorn the face of the county, but form an attractive feature to travelers and emigrants seeking a home in the State, and add very materially to the real wealth of the county.
An excellent quality of building stone is found in several portions of the county, but the best quarries are at Vinton and along the Cedar River. These quarries are inexhaustible in extent, and the quality of the stone is equal to any found in the West. When first taken out, the rock is of a brown color, and so soft that it is easily molded into any desired shape; but by exposure to the atmosphere, the color is changed to a white, closely resembling marble, and becomes perfectly hard and lasting, as its durability has been fully tested. The main buildings of the Iowa State College for the Blind, at Vinton, are built of this stone, taken from quarries situated some two and a half miles northwest of its location. Excellent quick line is made from these stone, while an abundance of good sand and brick clay is found in all parts of the county, and at Shellsburg an extensive business in the manufacture of earthenware has formerly been carried on. Coal has been found at Blairstown, Belle Plaine, and some other places, but not in quantity or quality to justify working. This county is also in the section known as the "drift region," as granite boulders of all sizes are found scattered over its surface, although not quite so plentifully as in some of the counties further north.
The banks of the Cedar River are full of fossils, and fossil corals, shells, etc., abound in the rock.
The elevations of a few places in Benton County above the level of the sea are given herewith: Norway Station, 780 feet; Blairstown, 850 feet; summit east of Buckeye Creek, 913 feet; Buckeye Creek at C. & N. W. crossing, 820 feet; Belle Plaine Station, 832 feet; water in Cedar at Vinton, about 790 feet.
The County Surveyed
Township 82, Range 9, was surveyed by A. L. Brown, Deputy U. S. Surveyor, in 1843. Townships numbered 83, 84, 85 and 86, in Ranges 9, 10 and 11 west, were also surveyed in 1843, by Isaac N. Higbee, Deputy Surveyor. Townships 82—10 an 82—11 were surveyed by A. L. Brown, in 1844. Townships 82, 83, 84, 85 and 86, Range 12, were surveyed in 1845, by James Fenning.
Benton County contains twenty Congressional townships, viz.: townships 82, 83, 84, 85 and 86 north of Ranges 9, 10, 11 and 12 west.
In 1878, there were 21 civil or political townships in the county, viz.: Florence (82—9); St. Clair (82—10); LeRoy (82—11); Iowa (82—12); Fremont (83—9); Eldorado (83—10); Union (83—11); Kane (83—12), Canton (84—9); Eden (84—10); Big Grove (84—11); Homer (84—12); Benton (85—9); Taylor (that part of 85—10 not embraced within the corporate limits of the city of Vinton); Vinton (the territory embraced by the corporation of Vinton City); Jackson (85—11); Monroe (85—12); Polk (86—9); Harrison (86—10); Cedar (86—11), and Bruce (86—12).
It has been stated that an election was held in Benton County, in 1843, at which the settlers voted for Linn County affairs. If there was such, no records were preserved, and the Auditor of Linn County, under date of July 25, 1878, certifies that "I have examined the records as desired, and found nothing whatever pertaining to Benton County officers; if Benton County was ever a part of Linn County, there is no record disclosing the fact. The fact that the county was not open to settlement until the 1st of May, 1843, squatters here prior to that time being trespassers upon Indian domain, would seem to indicate that there could not have been election held in the county as early as the August following. It is more probable that a Justice of the Peace might have been appointed by the Governor of the Territory, and the appointment of Constables by him might have given rise to the tradition of an election."
County Boundaries Defined
Section 9 of an act of the Territorial Legislature of Iowa, entitled "An act to establish new counties and define their boundaries in the late cession from the Sac and Fox Indians, and for other purposes," approved February 17, 1843, provided "That the following boundaries shall constitute a new county and be called Benton, to wit: beginning at the northwest corner of Linn County, thence west to Range 13 (thirteen west; thence south on said line to the corner of Townships (81) eighty-one and (82) eighty-two, of Range (13) thirteen and (14) fourteen west; thence east to southwest corner of Linn County, thence north to the place of beginning."
Tama County was established at the same time, and Benton and Tama and the territory west were attached to Linn County for judicial, revenue and election purposes.
Section 12 of the above act provided as follows:
That so soon as the treaty made by Governor Chambers with the Sac and Fox Indians shall have been ratified by the United States Senate, and the Indians removed from the late purchase the Board of County Commissioners of each organized county to which any of the new counties is attached, for judicial or other purposes, shall have the boundaries of any of the new counties surveyed and marked out as near as may be to correspond with the spirit and meaning of this act; which boundaries shall remain as the county boundaries until the county is surveyed by the United States, and that the township lines shall remain and be the county boundaries thereafter.
The Governor of the Territory was authorized by Section 13 of the same act, to appoint as many Justices of the Peace as he deemed expedient, in any of the new counties established by the act, and elsewhere within the boundaries of the Territory of Iowa, except in organized counties. Such Justices were appointed for two years, and each Justice so appointed was empowered to appoint two Constables.
The treaty with the Sacs and Foxes was made by Governor Chambers, October 11, 1842, and ratified by the United States Senate, March 23, 1843. The Indians were to retain possession of the ceded lands until May 1, 1843, and the territory west of a line drawn north and south through Redrock, until October 11, 1845. (See page 179).
While much of the larger part of Benton County was in the possession of the Sac and Fox Indians until May, 1843, a small portion of the territory now included in the county was included in the 1,250,000 acres purchased of the Indians in 1837. (See treaty of 1837, page 162). The west line of this purchase crossed the Cedar River near the west line of Benton Township, and included very nearly one tier to townships on the east side of the county. Township 86, Range 9, was included in this purchase, and the earliest settlers, in 1839-40, were very near the Indian line.
Early in 1839, George Wright and John Smith, two young men, located on Section 24, in Township 84, Range 9 (Canton), built a cabin and broke some prairie. This was probably the first cabin built by white men in Benton County. About the same time, James Scott came in and built a cabin. A little later in the same year, Samuel M. Lockhart, with his family, settled in the northeast part of the county, on Section 34, Township 86, Range 9. Shortly afterward, probably in 1840-41, James Downs, Thomas Way, Thomas Kendrick and Price Kendrick settled near Lockhart, and the little pioneer hamlet was called "Hoosier Point" until, in 1847, a town was laid out and called Marysville. Beal Dorsey came with Wright, Smith and Scott, but settled first, it is said, in Linn County. Charles Hinkley is supposed to have been a squatter in Benton County as early as 1839.
In 1840, Samuel K. Parker settled in Township 84, Range 9, near a grove since called Parker's Grove. Jacob Bonsall settled in the county in 1840, but after two or three years moved away. Gilman Clark located in the same year about a mile and a half southeast of the present village of Shellsburg. Stedman Penrose came in the same year; also A. D. Stephens, J. W. Filkins, Joseph Remington, and perhaps others.
It has been said that Reuben Buskirk settled here in 1840, east of Vinton, near the county line; that he died October 10, 1842, being the first death in the county; that there was no lumber with which to make a coffin, and the few settlers felled a linn tree, cut a log of the proper length, split it and laid one-half of it in the grave, and on this the body of the deceased Buskirk was laid, suitable blocks placed at his head and feet, and the other half of the log laid over him and the grave filled, and that there were five men and three women at the funeral. Mr. Lyman D. Bordwell, who was one of the five men present at the funeral, states that this is all correct, except that Buskirk settled just across the line, in Linn County.
In April, 1842, Jacob Cantonwine settled and built a cabin on the site of the future village of Shellsburg. Mrs. Bordwell came with his family. September 13, 1842, Lyman D. Bordwell, familiarly known as "Black King",* arrived at the frontier settlements in Benton County, purchased the claim and improvements of Wright and Smith, settled and lived there until 1849, when he removed to Sections 21 and 22, Township 85, Range 10, where he still resides. James Rice settled in 1849.
John Mason, George Sanders, John Royal and others came about 1842-3.
For eight or ten years after these first settlements, the population of the county increased very slowly, but it is to be noted that nearly all who came became permanent settlers. No records show the dates of settlement, and it is hardly possible to be literally correct, as men's memories of events that occurred thirty-five years ago are not always accurate. Below will be found the names of a few of the pioneers who came to Benton County between 1843 and 1851, with the date of their arrival as nearly as can be ascertained: Hyrcanus Guinn, Hugh Brody, F. Bryson, Stephen Brody, Joseph Bryson, William Mitchell, Jesse Brody, Josiah Helm, Joseph C. Rouse, 1843; S. R. Price, George McCoy, 1844; J. R. Pratt, David S. Pratt, L. W. Hayes, Chauncy Leverich, Stephen Holcomb, all in 1845; John Alexander, 1846-7; A. H. Johnson, 1846; David Jewell, John Renfrew, 1846; George Sanders, 1847; James Leverich, 1845-6; Daniel Harris and John S. Epperson, 1847; Elijah Evans, 1847; Charles N. Moberly, 1847; C. C. Charles, 1848; J. S. Forsythe, 1848; John C. Traer, 1851; Russell Jones, 1850; James Harmely, Martin Webb, Amos Anderson, James Pooley, Thomas Mahin, Samuel Rosebury, Alexander Moody, Elias Doan, John Leard, Abel Cox, Aaron Webb, James F. Beckett, D. S. Brubacher, James Chapin, W. C. Stanbury, John R. Speak, William Riley, David Fonts, Dr. C. W. Baffum, G. B. White, M. D. L. Webb, Francis Sander and six sons; Caleb Chapin, Stephen Chapin, James Wood, W. O. Sanders, William Bell, William Cline, I. D. Simison, J. F. Young, James Crow, Thos. Beckett.
According to the best information now available, it appears that the first birth in the county was that of William Penrose, son of Stedman Penrose, who was born in August, 1841; and the next, Mary North, daughter of Loyal F. North, January 8, 1843; and the next, Lucinda, daughter of Lyman D. Bordwell, July 5, 1844.
The records of Linn County indicate that the first couple married in the territory of Benton County was Charles Hinkley, aged 30 years, and Mary Helm, aged 45 years, by Perry Oliphant, in 1839. Oliphant made two trips to Marion for the license. They were married about midnight, in a log house, with no witnesses except the officiating Justice. Afterward, Henkley had one leg amputated by Dr. S. H. Tryon, and in 1848 was convicted of arson. She petitioned for divorce. John Alexander was her attorney, and succeeded in procuring a decree, with the assistance of some of the boys, with whom, however, he refused to divide his fees. As Benton County was not created until 1843, it is a little doubtful whether this marriage should be credited to it.
The first marriage license, after the organization of the county, appears to have been issued by David S. Pratt, Deputy Clerk of the District Court, to Joseph Onstott and Miss Sarah Patch, aged about 42 years, respectively. These parties were married June 20, 1847, by Lyman D. Bordwell, Justice of the Peace.
The first death was that of Christian Kensinger, Mrs. Bordwell's father, who came to the county in the Fall of 1843, and died May 5, 1844.
The first school house erected in the county, so far as can now be ascertained, was built of logs on Section 25, Township 86, Range 9, and known to the early settlers as the "Johnson School House." It was built in 1845-6, and the first school in the county was taught in it in 1846-7, by Francis James Rigaud, who was an educated man who "wrote a magnificent hand." Rigaud lived in a little log cabin near the present site of Wilmington. He died in 1847-8.
*Mr. Bordwell says that in earlier days, in some difficulty he had with Mr. Holcomb, he told that gentlemen that he (Bordwell) would show him that he (Bordwell) was "King of the Prairie." I. D. Simison, who was present thereupon called him the "Black King."
Polk township (86—9), Abner N. Spencer, part of Sections 2, 10 and 11, September 27, 1848; Malinda Lockhart, southwest quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 24, May 1, 1846; Barney D. Springer, south half of the southeast quarter of Section 26, June 15, 1846; Joseph Remington, west half of the northeast quarter of Section 34, April 7, 1846; William Mitchell, part of Section 34, June 19, 1846; Jacob Remington, October 3, 1846; Caleb S. Hendrys, southeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 36, November 3, 1845; Samuel M. Lockhart, west half of the northwest quarter of Section 36, November 17, 1845.
Harrison Township (86—10), William Hendrickson, northeast quarter of Section 28, June 13, 1849.
Cedar Township (86—11), John Houx, southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 25, July 16, 1851; Stephen King, part of Section 25, August 2, 1852.
Bruce Township (86—12), Lewis M. Carlisle, parts of Sections 31 and 32, June 29, 1853.
Benton Township (85—9), George W. Brice, part of Section 1, May 6, 1846; Hugh Brawdy, June 26, 1856; Edwin B. Spencer, part of Section 7, November 1, 1845; Charles Cantonwine, part of Section 31, December 10, 1845.
Taylor Township (85—10), William A. Bryson, part of Section 1, June 20, 1846; Samuel Morse, part of Section 10, March 10, 1846; John Renshaw, Samuel K. Parker, Joseph R. Strawn and Gideon B. White entered in 1846.
Jackson Township (85—11), William Helmes, part of Section 15, June 26, 1848; Sarah Harris, part of Section 12, October 11, 1848; Ebenezer Mulinick, part of Section 29, June 26, 1848.
Monroe Township (85—12), Grenville C. Slader, part of Section 15, June 30, 1851.
Canton Township (84—9), Daniel Ousted, part of Section 3, April 20, 1846; Charles A. Belnap, part of Section 11, May 13, 1846; Loyal F. North, part of Section 12, February 7, 1846; Stedman Penrose, Edward Karlsback, part of Section 12, December 30, 1845.
Eden Township (84—10), Elias Doan, part of Section 7, May 31, 1849.
Big Grove Township (84—11), Hans Hanson, part of Section 11, April 11, 1848.
Homer Township (84—12), Benjamin Kunkle, part of Section 29, October 23, 1854.
Florence Township (82—9), John Ure, part of Section 14, April 1, 1846; Hiram Usher, part of Section 18, February 14, 1846; William Thomas, part of Section 22, February 19, 1846.
Fremont Township (83—9), Edward Connolly, part of Section 32, March 12, 1853.
St. Clair Township (82—10), William T. Scott, part of Section 26, October 18, 1852.
Eldorado Township (83—10), James S. Easley, part of Section 26, September 8, 1854. Nearly all of this township was entered in the Fall of 1854.
LeRoy Township (82—11), George Titter, part of Section 26, October 24, 1850.
Union Township (83—11), Sarah Ann Matsinger, part of Section 32, October 27, 1851.
Iowa Township (82—12), Hyrcanus Guinn, part of Section 27, September 3, 1851; Samuel Yeomans, part of Section 21, September 13, 1851.
Kane Township (83—12), Levi Marsh, part of Section 32, September 20, 1853.
Organization of the County
There appears to have been no uniform rule or custom in the Territory or State of Iowa for the organization of counties, the boundaries of which were previously established by statute. Benton County was declared to be organized by act of the Territorial Legislature; and as these statutes are rare, the act may be valuable for reference if inserted here, as follows:
An Act For the Organization of Benton County
Section 1. -- Be it enacted by the Council an House of Representatives of the Territory of Iowa That the county of Benton be and the same is hereby organized from and after the 1st day of March next, and the inhabitants of said county shall be entitled to all the rights and privileges to which, by law, the inhabitants of other organized counties of this Territory are entitled; and said county shall constitute a part of the third Judicial District of this Territory.
Sec. 2. – That there shall be a special election held on the first Monday in the month of April next, at which time the county officers for said county shall be elected, and also such number of Justices of the Peace and Constables for said county as may be ordered by the Clerk of the District Court for said county.
Sec. 3. – That it shall be the duty of the Clerk of the District Court in and for said county to give at least ten days’ previous notice of the time and place of holding such special election in said county, grant certificates of election, and in all respects discharge the duties required by law to be performed by Clerks of the Boards of County Commissioners, in relation to elections, until a Clerk of the Board of County Commissioners may be elected and qualified.
Sec. 4. – That it shall be the duty of the Clerk of the District Court in said county to discharge all the duties required by law to be performed by Sheriffs, in relation to elections, until a Sheriff for said county may be elected and qualified.
Sec. 5. – That the county officers, Justices of the Peace and Constables elected under the provisions of this act shall hold their offices until the first Monday in August, 1846, and until heir successors are elected and qualified.
Sec. 6. – That the Clerk of the District Court in and for said county of Benton may be appointed and qualified at any time after the passage of this act.
Sec. 7. – That all actions at law or equity in the District Court for the county of Linn, commenced prior to the organization of said county of Benton, when the parties or either of them reside in said county of Benton, shall be prosecuted to final judgment, order or decree, as fully and effectually as if this act had not been passed.
Sec. 8. – That it shall be the duty of all Justices of the Peace residing within said county of Benton to return all books and papers in their hands, pertaining to said office, to the next nearest Justice of the Peace who may be elected and qualified in and for said county under the provisions of this act; and all suits at law or other official business which may be in the hands of such Justice of the Peace, and unfinished, shall be prosecuted and completed by the Justice of the Peace to whom such business or papers may be been returned, as aforesaid.
Sec. 9. – That the judicial authorities of Linn County shall have cognizance of all crimes or violations of the criminal laws of this Territory committed within the limits of said county of Benton prior to the 1st day of March next; Provided, prosecutions be commenced under the judicial authorities of said Linn County prior to the said 1st day in March next.
Sec. 10. – That said county of Benton shall have cognizance and jurisdiction of all crimes or violations of the criminal laws of this Territory, committed prior to the 1st day of March next, in cases where prosecutions shall not have been commenced under the judicial authorities of Linn County.
Sec. 11. – That the county of Tama and the counties lying west of said county of Tama be and the same are hereby attached to the county of Benton, for election, revenue and judicial purposes.
Sec. 12. – That the Clerk of the District Court in and for the county of Benton may keep his office at any place within said county, until the county seat thereof may be located.
Sec. 13. – That Joseph A. Se_rest, of Jones County, Lyman Dillon by Dubuque County, and Joseph A. Downing, of Cedar County, he and they are hereby appointed Commissioners to locate and establish the county seat of the county of Benton.
Sec. 14. – That said commissioners, or a majority of them, shall meet at the office of the Clerk of the District Court of the county of Benton, on the first Monday of May next, or at such other time, not exceeding thirty days thereafter, as a majority of them may agree.
Sec. 15. – Said Commissioners shall first take and subscribe to the following oath, to wit: "We do solemnly swear (or affirm) that we have no personal interest, either directly or indirectly, in the location of the seat of justice of the county of Benton, and that we will faithfully and impartially locate the same, according to the best interests of said county, taking into consideration the future as well as the present population of said county;" which oath shall be administered by the Clerk of the District Court, or any other officer authorized by law to administer oaths within the county of Benton; and the officer administering said oath shall certify and file the same in the office of the Clerk of the District Court of said county, whose duty it shall be to record the same.
Sec. 16. – Said Commissioners, when met and qualified under the provisions of this act, shall proceed to locate the seat of justice of said county of Benton; and as soon as they shall have come to a determination, the same shall be committed to writing, signed by the said Commissioners and filed with the Clerk of the District Court of said county, whose duty it shall be to record the same and forever keep it on file in his office; and the place thus designated shall be the seat of justice of said county.
Sec. 17. – Said Commissioners shall each be entitled to receive the sum of $2 per day while necessarily employed in the said location, and the sum of $2 for every twenty miles’ travel to and from the said county seat, which shall be paid by said Benton County out of the first funds arising from the sale of lots in such seat of justice.
Sec. 18. – The county of Black Hawk is hereby attached to said county of Benton for election, judicial and revenue purposes.
Sec. 19. – This act to take effect and be in force from and after its passage.
Approved, January 17, 1846.
The First Election
It has been stated that there was an election in Benton County in 1843, on the first Monday in August, at which the settlers voted for Linn County officers. While the closest inquiry fails to substantiate the fact, it would seem that there must have been elections of some sort held prior to 1846, or the conclusion must be adopted that Justices of the Peace were appointed by the Governor, as it seems to be almost certain that the county had some Justices before its organization as an independent county.
Under the act organizing the county of Benton, the appointment of a Clerk of the District Court was provided for, presumably by the Judge of the District Court, but there are no records to show such appointment, or authenticate the statement that at the first election there was but one voting precinct in the county, and the only voting place was at Parker’s Grove, although it is probable that among the heterogeneous mass of papers in the vaults of the Court House, some record might be found. It is here to be remarked that the county of Benton owes it to itself to collect, revise and place in suitable condition the old papers alluded to, and record such as should be recorded. While the records and papers of the county for the last fifteen or twenty years, or since 1863, are well arranged and well kept, prior to that time the archives of the county are in a lamentably and inexcusably chaotic state. Many of the records are utterly lost, while numerous papers, many of them doubtless valuable, are scattered in a state of almost inextricable confusion in the "great vault." The County Commissioners’ records are all lost, unless they shall be found by a thorough re-examination and arrangement of the documents. If these remarks shall produce the needed reform, the historian will not have labored in vain.
Permitted by the county officers to rummage among these ancient documents, he found a package marked "Omnium Gatherum; old papers." In this dusty package, securely hidden in a musty pigeon-hole among a lot of wolf bounty certificates of 1846-7, he found the original abstracts of the elections from April, 1846, to 1851, which are nowhere on record. Also the certificates of election, from which it appears that William J. Berry was the first District Clerk of Benton County appointed according to law. He also found one leaf (two pages) of the early Commissioners’ records, and some other valuable historical documents.
It is said that the first election was held at Parker’s Grove, and that Beal Dorsey, Stedman Penrose and Lyman D. Bordwell were the Judges, and David S. Pratt and John Royal were the Clerks. This is probably true.
Abstract of an Election
Held on the first Monday in April, A. D. 1846, in the county of Benton, Territory of Iowa, for the purpose of electing three County Commissioners, one Sheriff, one Commissioners’ Clerk, one Coroner, one Recorder, one Surveyor, one Judge of Probate, one Collector and Treasurer, one Inspector of Weights and Measures, one Assessor, three Justices of the Peace and three constables:
For County Commissioners – Edwin B. Spencer had 35 votes; Samuel M. Lockhart, 22; Stedman Penrose, 35; Samuel K. Parker, 33.
For Sheriff – John Royal had 33 votes; Lewis W. Bryson, 22.
For Commissioners’ Clerk – David S. Pratt had 42 votes.
For Recorder – Irwin D. Simison had 24 votes; James Downs, 11; Jonathan R. Pratt, 5; D. S. Pratt, 3.
For Coroner – Fielding Bryson had 41 votes.
For County Surveyor – Irwin D. Simison had 20 votes; David S. Pratt, 10; Francis J. Rigand, 16; Jonathan R. Pratt, 2; Beal Dorsey, 1; Jonathan Pratt, 1.
For Collector and Treasurer – Beal Dorsey had 35 votes; Lewis W. Bryson, 6.
For Assessor – Isaac Onstrott had 27 votes; Price Kendrick, 28.
For Inspector of Weights and Measurers – Davis S. Pratt had 39 votes.
For Judge of Probate – Jonathan R. Pratt had 37 votes; James M. Denison, 14.
For Justices of the Peace – Fielding Bryson had 39 votes; Irwin D. Simison, 21; Stephen Holcomb, 21; Charles Cantonwine, 30; Jonathan R. Pratt, 5; Gilman Clark, 14; Stedman Penrose, 7; George Miller, 1; -- Miller, 1; *Siven Hoken, 1; George Cantonwine, 1.
For Constables – Price Kendrick had 49 votes; Samuel Stephens, 28; Samuel L. Morse, 28; Beal Dorsey, 38, George Cantonwine, 2; L. D. Bordwell, 2; V. M. Gray, 1.
(Signed) Wm. J. Berry,
Clerk of the District Court
Justice of the Peace.
(*Intended for Stephen Holcomb.)
From this abstract, which is a copy of the original document, it does not appear that a Clerk of the District Court was elected. In the vote for Sheriff and Assessor, it seems that fifty-five votes were polled at this important and doubtless exciting first election in Benton County.
Although Stephens and Morse had an equal number (nine) votes for Constable, Clerk Berry appears to have declared Stephens elected, as in a precept to the Sheriff he orders that officer to notify Stephens of his election. Stephen Holcomb was also declared elected Justice of the Peace on the 6th day of April, 1846, although Simison had an equal number of votes. Sheriff-elect Royal took and subscribed the oath of office before Wm. J. Berry, Clerk of the District Court, April 8, 1846. Samuel K. Parker took the oath of office as Commissioner, April 8, 1846. Spencer a little later, and Penrose on the 13th. It is noticeable that the Clerk, Mr. Berry, used an American quarter of a dollar for a seal attached to his certificate. The other officers-elect were also duly sworn, and entered upon their duties, the most of them in April.
Location of the Seat of Justice
But little can now be ascertained in relation to the action of Commissioners Secrest, Dillon and Downing in the location of the seat of justice of Benton County. They probably deposited in the office of the Clerk of the Court, if there was one at the time the location was made, if not, with the Commissioners’ Clerk, their determination in writing, as required by law; but if they did, it is not preserved – at least it cannot be found.
From other sources of information and from the remembrances of those who were here at that time, the fact is established that the Commissioners met in May, 1846, as directed by law, and located the seat of justice of Benton County on the northeast quarter of Section 21, Township 85 north of Range 10 west of the Fifth Principal Meridian, and it is believed named it
The following copy of an order from the page of the County Commissioners’ records is proof positive that the first county seat was called Northport. The record is not dated; but from other entries and from subsequent events it is reasonably certain that the order was passed by the first Board of County Commissioners in June or July, 1846, possibly in May.
"Ordered, by the County Commissioners, that the County Surveyor of Benton be directed to proceed and lay out the town of Northport, the county seat of Benton, on the northeast quarter of Section 21, Range 10 west, on the ground selected by the Commissioners appointed by law, and that the County Surveyor hire the necessary chain curriers and stake drives, and at the usual price, and at the expense of the county. The plat submitted by the County Surveyor this day is approved of."
Irwin D. Simison was the County Surveyor who made the plat mentioned in the order above. Mr. Bordwell, whose memory of events and dates is remarkably good, says that the town of Northport was laid out early in the Summer of 1846; that a sale of lots took place and several were bid off, but the sale was never consummated. The plat which was made was never recorded; or if it was, no record thereof is now in existence.
The First Court House
Having a county seat, it became essential that a court House should be provided. The Commissioners were equal to the emergency, for the following order immediately follows the above:
Ordered. That the Commissioners’ Clerk cause notices to be posted at three places in the county for contracts to be received for building a hewed log Court House at Northport, in Benton County, of the following dimensions, viz: 20x24 feet, two stories high, eight feet between floors; white oak, maple or ash floors – laid in a workmanlike manner – one door below, three windows, of twelve lights each, one in each side of the house and one in the end; one pair of stairs three feet wide – joist white oak timber 4x7 inches, twelve in number, twelve sleepers of good, hard timber; three twelve-light windows of the same size upstairs; oak shingle roof with lath or sheeting. The upper floor to be divided by partitions into three rooms, and to each room a door and window; plastered inside and out with lime. The letting of the contract will be by sealed proposals to be sent to the County Commissioners’ Clerk previous to Saturday, 24 (June 3), when the lowest bidder will be declared. Bond for the faithful performance of the contract will be required. For further information apply to the County Commissioners’ Clerk.
The Commissioners appear to have made three election precincts in the county, and appointed Judges of Election as follows:
No. 1 Precinct – E. B. Spencer, S. M. Lockhart and James Downs.
No. 2 Precinct – L. F. North, S. Penrose and G. Clark.
No. 3 Precinct – S. L. Morse, Jas. Smith, Sr., and I. D. Simison.
Immediately following this action is the following entry:
Ordered. That the court for receiving bids for the Court House be held at _______.
The fact that at the election, August 6, 1846, there were three precincts voting, and that very soon after the precincts were erected into townships, is a further indication that the above action was in June or July, 1846. The walls of the log Court House were laid upon the site selected at Northport in 1846 or ’47. The town plat was recorded February 12, 1848, by Samuel M. Lockhart, Loyal F. North and Thomas Way, County Commissioners; I. D. Simison, County Surveyor (who laid out the town of Northport in 1846), and named Vinton, it is said in honor of the Hon. P. Vinton, a Member of Congress from Ohio, who sent $50 to be invested in town lots, provided the name of the county seat should be changed from Northport and called Vinton, which was done. ‘Squire Bordwell says the $50 was invested, but not in Vinton town lots. The plat of Vinton, as originally recorded, shows a nice public square, in the center of which is rudely portrayed, with a pen, what is supposed to be intended for the representation of the Scales of Justice. The term of court in September, 1848, was held, according to the record, in the log Court House at Vinton.
The first Board of County Commissioners, evidently on the same day that the above orders were passed, also passed the following:
Ordered, That Town 86, Range 9, be School District No. 1.
Ordered, That Town 85, Range 9, be School District No. 2.
Ordered, That as much of Town 85, Range 10, as lies north of Cedar River be School District No. 3.
Ordered, That District No. 4 shall commence at northeast corner of Town 83, Range 9 west, then running west along said line two and a half miles; then south to Parker’s Grove; then east to the county line; then north to the place of beginning.
Ordered, That District No. 5 shall commence at the southeast corner of Town 84; thence north along the line to Cedar River; then west to the west line of Town 84; then south along the said line three miles; then east to the place of beginning.
Ordered, That District No. 6 shall include all the settlement west of Town 84.
Ordered, That all settlements west of Range 9 west shall be considered as District No. 3.
The last order appears to have been an afterthought. On the same stray leaf of record are the appointments of Thomas Way, Supervisor of Precinct 2, and William Bellows and John Brody, Supervisors in Precinct 1.
Election of August, 1846
The officers elected in April could only hold until the first Monday in August following. The orders above quoted in relation to the survey of Northport, the county seat, could not be executed before that election, which resulted in placing in office an almost entire new Board of County Commissioners, as will appear from the following "Abstract of the votes polled at the August election in Benton County, for the purpose of electing county and precinct officers, August 6, 1846." At this election there were three voting precincts. No civil townships had yet been made:
For County Commissioners – S. M. Lockhart had 53 votes; Charles Cantonwine, 31; L. F. North, 51; J. R. Pratt, 17; S. K. Parker, 12.
For Clerk of Commissioners’ Court – D. S. Pratt had 33 votes; Stephen Holcomb, 22.
For Sheriff – James Downs had 37 votes; John Royal, 20.
For County Surveyor – F. J. Rigaud had 35 votes; I. D. Simison, 13.
For Coroner – Thomas Way had 39 votes; F. Bryson, 11.
For Recorder – Irwin D. Simison had 10 votes; Lester W. Hayes, 40.
For Collector and Treasurer – Beal Dorsey had 21 votes; S. L. Morse, 23.
For Assessor – Price Kendrick had 37 votes; I. D. Bordwell, 16.
For Judge of Probate – J. R. Pratt had 15 votes; James Denison, 28.
For Inspector of Weights and Measures – Aaron Hain had 2 votes.
Precinct No. 1 – F. J. Rigaud had 23 votes; L. W. Hayes, 20 – for Justices of the Peace, and were elected; Price Kendrick, 20; James Smith, Jr., 20 – for Constables, and were elected.
Precinct No. 2 – I. D. Bordwell had 15 votes; G. W. Miller, 10; Gillman Clark, 5 – for Justices of the Peace, and Bordwell and Miller were elected; James A. Scott, 7; Beal Dorsey, 6 – for Constables, and were elected.
Precinct No. 3 – Stephen Holcomb had 6 votes; Charles Cantonwine, 6 – for Justices of the Peace, and were elected; Adam Kean, 6; Aaron Hains, 6 – for Constables, and were elected.
Black Hawk Precinct (all of Black Hawk County) – S. W. Hanna had 4 votes; E. D. Adams, 4 – for Justices of the Peace, and were elected; John Melrose, 3 – for Constable, and was elected.
(Signed) D. S. Pratt,
Clerk of the Board of Commissioners
L. D. Bordwell,
Justices of the Peace
The law required two Justices to act with the Clerk as a Board of Canvassers. There was only one, Cantonwine; but Bordwell had been elected, and the Judges so declaring, was duly sworn by the Clerk, and acted as one of the Board. Black Hawk County voted for Benton County officers at this election, but its vote was not very large. There was no Clerk of the District Court elected at this election, and yet on the fourth Monday in August, 1846, when the first term of the District Court was appointed to be held, J. R. Pratt appears of record as Clerk, probably appointed by the Judge, as Berry had been. At the same election, forty-one votes were cast for the State Constitution, and seventeen against it.
The First Post Office
in Benton County was established October 1, 1846, and called Vinton. Stephen Holcomb was appointed Postmaster. From this fact it would seem that the name "Northport" was changed to Vinton about that time.
The First Deed
made in Benton County after its organization, and the first recorded on Page 1 of Book A, Benton County Records, was a deed made by William Mitchell and Sarah Mitchell, his wife, to Anderson Amos, conveying forty acres, being the southeast quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 34, Town 86, Range 9. The witnesses were Daniel Wilson and John Brody. The instrument was executed and acknowledged before F. J. Rigaud, Justice of the Peace, September 25, 1846, and recorded by Lester W. Hayes, October 12, 1847 (6), at 2 o’clock P. M.
The second was a warranty deed, executed October 15, 1846, by Charles A. Belknap and Elizabeth L. Belknap, his wife, to Levi Lewis, conveying forty acres of land, for a consideration of $1 per acre. The witnesses to this deed were John L. Shearer and Henry Nelson; and all parties – grantors, grantee, witnesses and magistrates – lived in Linn County, but the land was in Benton.
The first record of sale of personal property recorded in the records of Benton County was a bill of sale of one yoke of oxen, one two-horse wagon, three log chains, one brown cow and one yearling calf, made by Charles Hinkley to S. H. Tryon. It was executed and recorded January 13, 1847, acknowledged before L. W. Hayes, a Justice of the Peace, recorded by L. W. Hayes, Recorder, and witnessed by L. W. Hayes and Joel Nation.
Immediately following is a receipt given by Tryon to Chauncy Leverich, in full of all demands against Charles Hinkley.
Vote for State Officers, October, 1846
Having held two elections in 1846, the settlers in Benton held still another, on the 26th day of October, at which they cast their votes for State officers, the Constitution having been adopted. The abstract shows the following:
For Governor – Thomas McKnight had 28 votes; Ansel Briggs, 13.
For Congress – Joseph H. Hedrick had 26 votes; G. C. R. Mitchell, 21; S. C. Hastings, 18; Shepherd Leffler, 10.
For Secretary of State – James H. Cowles had 26 votes; Elisha Cutter, Jr., 9; E. Cutter, 1.
For Treasurer – Morgan Reno had 10 votes; Egbert T. Smith, 26.
For Auditor – Estin Morris had 26 votes; Joseph T. Falls, 10.
We do certify the above to be a correct abstract of the votes given in Benton County, Iowa, October 28, 1846.
(Signed) Stephen Holcomb,
(Attest) D. S. Pratt Charles Cantonwine,
Justice of the Peace of Benton County, Iowa
A Model Judge of Probate
The following unique document is apparently in the handwriting of Judge Mitchell, except the certificate of the Clerk, and leaves the inference that Judge Denison had resigned or had not accepted the trust:
State of Iowa, Benton County, ss., You dew solomly sware that You will Well And Truly support The Constitution of The united States of America And of this State, And faithfully And impartially to discharge the duties Required of you by law As Judg of probate, so helpe you god.
This, the 9th day of March, A. D. 1847.
(Signed) James Mitchell
Sworn and subscribed to before me this 9th day of march, A. D. 1847.
D. S. Pratt,
Deputy Clerk of the District Court
The First Probate Court
Immediately after his appointment and qualification, as above, Judge Mitchell appears to have held a Probate Court, and appointed Irwin D. Simison Administrator of the estate of William Carter, late of Town 85, Range 10. It is proper to add that the early probate records were collected and accurately transcribed by Judge John S. Forsyth.
Judge Mitchell appears to have had a system of orthography and method of doing business peculiarly his own; and the transcript of proceedings in the first case before him will be found interesting:
Probate Office, Fremont, Benton County, Iowa
A transcript of the proceedings had before James Mitchell, Judge of Probate for Benton County, Iowa:
Know all men by these Presen’s, That we, Irwin D. Simison, Samuel K. Parker and Beal Dorsey, are held and stand firmly bound unto James Mitchell, Judge of Probate, or his successor in office in the county of Benton, in the State of Iowa, in the sum of eight hundred dollars, to be void on these conditions: If the said Irwin D. Simison shall make and return in the said office of Probate Cort of said county, within thre months, A true inventory of all the real estate and all the goods, chattels, rights and credits of the said William Carter, deceasett, and the proceeds of all his real estate that may be sold for the payment of his debts, which shall at any time come to the possession of the said Erwin D. Simison, administrator of the deceaste William Carter, or to the possession of the said Erwin D. Simison, administrator of the deceaste William Carter, or to the possession of any person for him, and to render a firm oath, a true account of his administration within one year, and at any other times when required by the Judge of Probate; to pay any balance remaining in his hands upon the settlements of his accounts, to such persons as the Judge of Probate shall direct; and deliver the letters of administration into the Probate Coarte in case any will of the deceased shall be thereafter duly proven and alowd.
In testimony whareof, we have herunto set our hands and seals, March the 15th, 1847.
(Signed) I. D. Simison, [Seal.]
S. K. Parker, [Seal.]
March the 19th, 1847 Beal Dorsey [Seal.]
Fild and approved on the day and date above riten. James Mitchell, Judge of Probate of Benton County, State of Iowa, with his private [Seal] affixed, there being no public seal yet provided.
Judge of Probate.
State of Iowa, Benton County, ss., You dew solemnly sware that you well and truly administer the estate of William Carter, deseaste, late of said county, to the best of your skill and abilities, according to law, so helpe you god.
(Signed) I. D. Simison
Sworn to and subscribed before me, on the 19th day of March, 1847. James Mitchell, Judge of Probate of Benton County, Iowa, with is private seal affixte (T. L.) thereto, being no public seal yet provided.
Judge of Probate
Summons issued by the Judge of Probate of Benton County and State of Iowa, on the 19th day of March, 1847, to the following effect, to wit:
State of Iowa, Benton County, ss., To the Sheriff of said county, Greeting, in the name of the United States of America: You are hereby commanded to summons John Hendershot, Charles Cantonwine and George Cantonwine to be and appear before me forthwith, to be sworn as appraisers of the estate of William Carter, deceaste, late of said county; to prosede and apprase said goods and chattels of the said deceaste that may be found in said county. And of this writ make lagal service, and dew return, according to law. Given under my hand and Probate seal annexte, ther being know seal (S. L.) yet provided by the county.
March 19, 1847 Judge of Probate of sad county
Returned on the 20 day, with the following indorsemente:
Served the within writ by reading to the within named persons, March the 20th, 1847.
Beal Dorsey, Dept. Sheriff
Appraisors appeared on the 20th day of March, 1847, and after being duly sworen acording to law, proceded to apprais the property of the deseast, and a return maid their of, as is hereunto annexte by the administrator of the estate.
An inventory and appraisment of the real estate and goods and chattels, rights, credits and effects which were of William Carter, late of Benton County and State of Iowa, deceased, taken on the 20 day of March, 1847:
The Clame of the deseased and improvements on the s. w. ¼ of Sec. 32, in To. 85 N. of R. 10 W. of the 5th pr. mr., $100.00; three flour barrels, 75c; 2 tight barrels; 200 porke in barrel, 4.00; 2 ½ acres wheat in field, 8.00; 1 shot gun, 4.00; 1 tin bucket, 50c.; 2 small tin pans, 12 ½ cts.; 1 large do do, 25 cts.; 1 coffee pot and tin cup, 12 ½ cts.; stone jar and lard, 50 cts.; 1 skillet & lid, 75 cts.; 1 small pot, 50 cts.; 4 bushels of corn, 75 cts.; 1 basket, 37 ½ cts.; four sacks, 25 cts.; 3 pecks buckwheat, at 25 cts.; 25 lbs. salt, 37 ½ cts.; 2 dozen candles, 20 cts.; 1 muskrat trap, 25 cts.; 1 bushel white beans, 50 cts.; 1 doz. Chickens, 1.00; 1 pike and ring, 25 cts.; 1 bible, 1.00; 1 hymn book, 25 cts.; hunts history of Mormons; 1 almanac, 10 cts.; 1 ½ lbs. shot, 15 cts.; 1 bar of lead, 5 cts.; 7 flints, 7 cts.; 1 powder & horn, 25 cts.; one clawhammer, 16 cts. ½ lb. 4p. nails, 4 cts.; 1 large box, 25 cts.; 1 lb. saleratus, 12 cts.; ½ paper, 6 cts.; 1 not mall, 12 cts.; 1 bushel corn, 20 cts.; 11 head stock hogs, 17.00; one yoke oxen, 30.00; 1 yearlin calf, 3.00; 1 old ax, 25 cts.; 9 saw logs, 3.00; 1 choping ax, 25 cts.; 1 iron wedge, 75 cts.; 1 frying pan, 25 cts.; 1 raisor, 50 cts.; ½ set knives and forks, 25 cts.; bed tick, 3.00; G. B. White’s note for eight and twenty-five cents, to be paid in breaking prairie, 8.25 cts.; G. B. White’s note, braking 15 acres prairie, 22.50 cts.; 1 pocketbook, 75 cts., 2 stands bees, 4.00; Samuel Braggleton’s note, for uncertain, 3.00; 1 stirring plow, 4.00; 1 pail, 12 cts.; 1 pitchfork & sled, 1.25. Total amount of the hole inventory, 232.00. March 20th, 1847. Appraisors’ names, Charles Cantonwine, John Hendershot and George Cantonwine.
Personally appeared Irwin D. Simison, and being duly worn, deposeth and sais foregoing inventory is according to the present value, as appraised by the foregoing appraisors, and all the goods, chattels, lands and tenements that has come to his knolledge, in said county, this 20 day of March, 184.
J. D. Simison,
Administrator of the said estate
Sworn to and subscribed to on the day and year above ritten, before me, James Mitchell, Judge of Probate of Benton County, state of Iowa, with his private seal affixte [Seal] there being no seal yet provided by the county.
Judge of Probate.
Ordered, by the Judge of Probate, That Irwin D. Simison shall give notice of his appointment as administrator of the estate of William Carter, Deseaste, late of Benton County, State of Iowa, within the time prescribed by law, by posting up three written advertisements in three public places in said county.
James Mitchell, Judge of Probate of Benton County, State of Iowa, with his private seal (S.S.) affixte, there being no seal yet provided by the county.
Judge of Probate.
The Judge also ordered the above-named Administrator to offer for sale the real and personal estate of the deceased, and then followed an inventory of his clothing and record of expense:
A inventory of the clothing and other private articles left in the hands of the administrator of the estate of William Carter, deseaste, of Benton County, State of Iowa, to be delivered to the legal Heirs, if called for, to wit: 1 blue broad Cloth coat, one uniform coate, cotton, one glugham Coate, one linen roundabout, one cotton vesting vest, one twilde cotton veste, one Casamir veste, one pair of pants, cotton tickin, one pair of linin pants, one neckties, three pare of Cotton drilling drawers, one Caronel frocke coate, one Close sack. This, the 14th day of April, 1846.
I. D. Simison,
Administrator of the estate of the deceased.
State of Iowa, Benton County, William Carter, Dr.,
To John Hendershot, August, 1846:
To boarde three weeakes, when sick at my house 6.00
For work done and debt paid for said Carter to Green 5.00
For expense of keeping and waiting and attending on said
Carter in his laste sickness, in 1847 15.00
Hole amounte 26.00
Fees of Sheriff on summons for John Hendershot, C. Cantenwine
and G. Cantonwine, serving and milage to C. Cantonwine,
serving and milage to G. Cantonwine, serving and milage for
John Hendershot – for serving and milage for all 1.10
I do hereby certify that the foregoing is a true coppy of all the papers that came to my hands, in the office of Probate Court, in the case of Irwin D. Simison, Administrator of the estate of William Carter, deceased.
Given under my hand, this 20th day of January, A. D. 1852.
John S. Forsyth
The second and last act on record of James Mitchell, as Probate Judge, was the appointment of "Jackson Tailor" as guardian of "Lydia Ann Willard." Jackson Taylor was then a resident of Black Hawk County.
The first act of Judge D. S. Pratt, who succeeded Mitchell, is dated March 22, 1848, being the appointment of Samuel M. Lockhart, of Benton County, as Administrator of the estate of F. J. Rigaud, which inventoried at $221.01.
The next one is dated April 26, 1848, and was the appointment of Stedman Penrose as Administrator of the estate of Gilman Clark, which amounted to $253.90.
Until this time, for some cause, the people of the county had not elected a Prosecuting Attorney, District Clerk or School Land Commissioner, but at the election on Wednesday, April 7, 1847, D. S. Pratt, the Commissioners’ Clerk, certifies that at an election on Monday, the 5th, the following officers were elected, viz.: Prosecuting Attorney, Fras. Jas. Rigaud; District Clerk, D. S. Pratt; School Land Commissioner, E. D. Spencer.
But for some reason – either than the persons elected declined to accept, or that there was some serious informality that vitiated the election – a special election was held on the 28th of April following, which resulted differently, as shown by the following:
Abstract of the votes cast at a special election held in Benton County, State of Iowa, on the 28th day of April, 1847, for county officers, to wit: One District Clerk, one Prosecuting Attorney, one School Land Commissioner:
For Prosecuting Attorney – James Mitchell had nineteen (19) votes; Stephen Holcomb had twenty-one (21) votes for Prosecuting Attorney, and Fras. Jas. Rigaud had three (3) votes.
For District Clerk – I. D. Simison had thirty-three (33) votes, and D. S. Pratt had twelve (12) votes.
For School Land Commissioner – John Royal had thirty (30) votes, and E. D. Spencer had four (4) votes.
May 5, 1847 Attest: D. S. Pratt,
I. W. Hayes
I. D. Bordwell
Justices of the Peace
Mr. Clerk Pratt made the memorandum that "certificate for Stephen Holcomb issued."
Notwithstanding the action of the Canvassing Board and the issue of the certificate to Holcomb as Prosecuting Attorney, Mr. Mitchell appears to have contested his right to the office, and successfully, too, so far as the Justice’s Court before which he brought his case, as appears from the following, which is an exact copy of the original:
We The Undersigned Justes of The peace’ of Benton Co. state of Iowa After examining All the Testimony perdused Before us on A case of the contesting of Alectun of Stephen Holcomb by James Mitchel do finde that the said Mitchel is duly Alected this the 12 day of May, 1847.
(Signed: L. W Hayes, J. P. [L. S.]
L. D. Bordwell, J. P. [L. S.]
Charles Cantonwine, J. P. [L. S.]
This document (which appears to have been written by Mitchell) was filed May 13, 1847. The case produced considerable excitement, and the little community of Benton County was greatly exercised over it. Precisely on what ground Mitchell contested, or what authority was vested in Justices of the Peace to annul a certificate of election, does not clearly appear, although it is clear that they took the responsibility. Mr. Bordwell, one of the Justices, states that the Black hawk County vote was solid for Mitchell – five votes. If they were counted, Mitchell was elected; if not, then Holcomb’s certificate was valid. It would seem that the returns from Black Hawk had not been received when the votes were canvassed on the 5th of May, and the question whether the canvass should be re-opened and the vote of Black hawk opened and counted, was the one that must be decided. It was decided, and the Black Hawk vote was received and counted, which changed the result, and Mitchell assumed to exercise the duties of prosecuting officer, although Holcomb still held his certificate of election.
Couldn’t Stand It
The following is a copy of a paper found among the wolf-scalp certificates, filed as "Security Resignation." It explains itself:
To the District Clerk of Benton County: You are hereby notifide that the undersigned, security for James Downs, as Sheriff of said county, will stand as such no longer. You will therefore notifide him according to law.
Dated this 8th day of May, A. D. 1847.
(Signed) Thomas Way
The First Court
The first term of the District Court was appointed to be held at the house of Thomas Way, about two miles northeast of the present Court House, on the last Monday in August, 1846. It is said that Way's log cabin was then the best house in the county, and was selected as Court House for that reason. Grand and petit jurors were summoned, and on the day appointed James Downs, Sheriff, and Jonathan R. Pratt, Clerk of the Court, with eighteen grand and seventeen petit jurors, assembled at the house of Thomas Way; but, for some reason not now apparent, the Judge, Carleton, did not put in an appearance, and the Clerk proclaimed an adjournment until the next day. On the second day the Judge was still absent, the Clerk adjourned the court without day, and the assembled settlers dispersed to their homes disappointed that the "show did not come off."
By an act of the first General Assembly of the State of Iowa, approved Feb. 17, 1847, it was provided that "the District Court in and for the county of Benton shall be held at such place within said county as the County Commissioners may direct." The county had a seat of justice, but there was no Court House or any other house there; and, presumably, the County Commissioners directed court to be held at the house of Thomas Way; for on the 31st day of May, 1847, court was opened there for the first time in Benton County. Present, Hon. James P. Carleton, Judge of the District Court; James Downs, Sheriff; James Mitchell, Prosecuting Attorney, and Irwin D. Simison, Clerk of the District Court. Way's cabin was in the midst of thick timber, and to make room for the august assemblage, Mrs. Way removed her pots, kettles and other household utensils to the shelter of a neighboring tree. Having done this, she coolly seated herself on a stump near the open door of the cabin, and gazed with respectful wonder at the collection of learned heads assembled within to administer the law to the backwoodsmen of Benton County. The judge was perched on a three-legged stool, behind a rough deal table (the only one in the house) at the farther end of the little room. At the left of His Honor, seated on a low mill-bench, with his books and papers spread out before him, was Simison, the Clerk. There were also present, Norman W. Isbell (subsequently Judge of the Supreme Court), Isaac N. Preston, John David, D. P. Palmer, John P. Cook and Stephen Whicher, members of the bar from other counties. Benton County had no lawyer then. The court was formally opened by the Sheriff, and dispatched business with a rapidity that would startle some more modern courts.
The grand jury summoned was sworn, as follows: Fielding Bryson, James Harmely, Joseph Remington, John Bryson, Charles Graham, Stephen Brody, Jesse Brody, Josiah Helm, David Jewell, William Mitchell, Samuel M. Lockhart, James Polly, Chauncy Leverich, Anderson Amos, James M. Denison, Joseph Bryson, Lyman D. Bordwell and Samuel Stephens. Samuel M. Lockhart was appointed foreman of the Jury, which, after being duly charged, retired to the timber to deliberate, in charge of Beal Dorsey, Bailiff.
The first case of entry is the State of Iowa vs. Joel Leverich, for passing counterfeit money, which appears to have been transferred from Linn County on change of venue. Leverich was a member of the band of outlaws that infested this region at the time, and he probably thought that he could get a good jury in Benton County. The case was continued to the next term, however, and Ambrose Harland, Elijah Evans, Adason Daniels, Lowell Daniels, Nathaniel Chapman, Isaac D. Worrall and John Perkins were held in $50 each to appear as witnesses. The accused was not present, and a capias was issued to the Sherriff of Linn County for his arrest, returnable at next term of court. Another indictment against Joel Leverich for having in possession counterfeiting instruments, was disposed of similarly.
On the second day of the term, the case of Samuel Finley vs. William Sturgis (of Black Hawk County), assumpsit, damage $100, which was the first civil case entered, was withdrawn by the plaintiff, having been amicably settled by the parties.
June 1st, the second day of the term, William Smyth (afterward presiding Judge for the same court) was hanging around the door of the court cabin, waiting for admission to the bar. The court appointed Messrs. Preston, David, Isbell and Palmer a committee to forthwith examine the said Smyth as to his proficiency in the law, with instructions to report the result. The committee with Smyth in charge, retired to the timber to discuss matters and things in general, and incidentally their duty-Smyth's legal knowledge, etc. Allowing a proper time to elapse, the committee, arm in arm with Smyth, returned into court and reported, whereupon William Smyth was duly sworn and admitted to practice in the courts of Iowa. Smyth remembered what was expected of him when court adjourned.
James Mitchell, Prosecuting Attorney, made application for admission to the bar, and Messrs. Preston, Palmer, Isbell and David were appointed to examine him. They reported that the legal attainments of the applicant were not such as to warrant his admission, and his application was denied.
Immediately afterward, Stephen Holcomb asked to leave to file information in the nature of a quo warranto against James Mitchell for intruding into the office of Prosecuting Attorney; leave was granted; the necessary papers were issued and served. Mitchell was summoned and appeared before the court by himself and by his attorney, I. M. Preston. The relator, Holcomb, appeared by Palmer & Isbell, his attorneys. Both parties waived a jury, and after a hearing, the court held that Mitchell was guilty, as charged, of intruding into the office of Prosecuting Attorney, and that he, the said Mitchell, should be ousted there-from. But, Holcomb, who expected to succeed the ousted officer, was disappointed, for, while he recovered his costs -- taxed at $1.87 ½ -- the court held that the relator was not entitled to the office, and appointed I. M. Preston to fill the vacancy.
The court adjourned Jan. 1, 1847, having been in session two days, and Mrs. Way resumed sway over her natural domain.
At the time designated for the September term, John Royal* was Sheriff, and Irwin D. Simison, Clerk, and were in attendance, but the Judge did not appear, and the court adjourned sine die. After the adjournment, the inevitable jug was produced, the contents of which soon disappeared, and of the assembled crow, many of them became very drunk.
*John Royal is said to have been the embodiment of the term "a hale fellow well met, " his funny bump being exceedingly large. This craving for amusement often led him to spend hours together in the bar-room, where 'frolic ran riot,' much to the discomfort of his good wife, who, after trying everything she could think of to break him of this habit, at last hit upon the following plan: C. C. Charles opened a saloon on the north side of the public square, in 1851. This became Royal's resort. One day, in company with her old friend, L. D. Bordwell, Mrs. Royal suddenly stepped into the saloon, and advanced to the counter on which the old Sheriff was perched, vigorously sawing discordant music from an aged and dilapidated fiddle. On discovering the visitors, his face presented a startling picture of amazement, shame and consternation, which first expression disappeared and lent its force to the remaining two, as his wife exclaimed, "Bring on the whisky, Mr. Charles! I tell you I am going to have a spree. If there is any enjoyment in this way of doing, I am going to participate. Gentlemen, walk up and drink. This is fine, ain't it?" "Huzzah! huzzah for the old Musquaka Chief, or any other man. Come up, Johnny, my dear, let us have another drink!" "Huzzah! for the Sheriff of Benton County, for him and his wife are both on a bender. Oh, this is nice!" Royal could stand it no longer. He dropped the old violin, and with sadness in his very motion, took his wife gently by the hand; and with voice full of tenderness, said "Catherine, let us go home. This is no place for as good a woman as you are, let us go home, and I will stay with you hereafter." And he kept his word. He was an efficient officer, and respected by all.
Election of 1847
The abstract of the votes polled at an election held in Benton County on the 2nd day of August, 1847, signed by D. S. Pratt, Commissioners’ Clerk, and Stephen Holcomb and Charles Cantonwine, Justices of the Peace, was as follows:
For Sheriff – Beal Dorsey had 20 votes; John Royal, 33.
For Judge of Probate – D. S. Pratt had 42 votes; E. D. Spencer, 1.
For County Commissioner – Thomas Way had 24 votes; Samuel L. Morse, 14; L. W. Hayes, 15.
For Commissioners’ Clerk – D. S. Pratt had 42 votes; E. D. Spencer, 1.
For Recorder – D. S. Pratt had 24 votes; L. W. Hayes, 23.
For Surveyor – Irwin D. Simison had 47 votes.
For Coroner – Fielding Bryson had 19 votes; E. B. Spencer, 17.
For Sealer of Weights and Measurers – Aaron Hains had 9 votes; Thomas Lockhart, 11; D. S. Pratt, 5.
For Prosecuting Attorney – Aaron Hains had 11 votes; John Hendershott, 1; Stephen Holcomb, 5; Samuel M. Lockhart, 13.
At this election, the vote for Representative to Congress was as follows: Thomas McKnight had 20 votes; Shepherd Lefler, 34. Benton County was then included in the Second Congressional District.
County Debt Wiped Out
It is said that the county in those early times was deeply in debt. A pretty large amount of orders had been issued for various purposes until they were absolutely worthless, but were still evidences of indebtedness outstanding against the county. During the time that Way served as County Commissioner, it is also said that the county officers determined to make a new departure, destroy all the records, and begin anew. Way bought in the county orders. The price of a county order, whatever its face, was a rink of whisky. When they were all or nearly all purchased in this way, they were burned by Way, and the county was relieved from its indebtedness. Whether the records were destroyed is uncertain, but it is certain that they are not now accessible, except the few papers found by the historian, which have been freely used in this work.
The Board of County Commissioners for 1847-48, it is presumed, created several civil townships; but singularly enough, there is no record of the creation of a single one of them, either by the County Commissioners or the County Judge. At the time of the Commissioners’ Court in April, 1847, John Royal and George Cantonwine were appointed Supervisors of Canton Township, and directed "to open an work all legal laid-out roads in said township." Anderson Amos was appointed Supervisor in Township 86 north, Range 9 west, and David Jewell in Township 85, Range 9, and Thomas Way Supervisor on a certain road "commencing at the corner of Harrison’s field and running to Edward’s Ford across the Cedar River." Prior to 1851, three more townships, viz., Polk, Harrison and Taylor, were created.
In October, 1847, the secretary of School District No. 1, in Polk Township, reported to the School Fund Commissioners that there were twenty-six persons in that district between the ages of 5 and 21 years.
State Roads in Benton County
Section 5 of "An act for laying out and establishing certain roads therein named," approved February 18, 1847, appointed James Leverich, of Linn County, Charles Cantonwine, of Benton, and William Hunt, of Black Hawk County, Commissioners to lay out and establish a State road, beginning at Cedar Rapids, thence to or near the house of Mr. Strawn, in Linn County; thence to the county seat of Benton; thence to the Falls of the Cedar.
By act approved February 25, 1847, E. B. Spencer, Samuel M. Lockhart and William Belles were appointed Commissioners to establish a State road from the county seat of Benton County to Quasqueton, Buchanan County.
Section 10 of "An act to locate and establish certain roads," approved February 5, 1851, appointed James Allenworth, of Linn, John Alexander, of Benton, and David S. Pratt, of Black Hawk, to locate and establish a State road from Center Point to Marysville, Benton County; thence by the residence of James Virden to the Big Woods, via John H. Messinger’s, to Rice’s old trading house.
Section 25, of the same act, appointed William Williams, of Muscatine, Isaac Cook, of Linn, and John Royal, of Benton, to locate a State road from Cedar Rapids, via Fremont (Vinton), in Benton, to Fort Clarke.
Section 45 appointed Samuel C. Trowbridge, of Johnson; Andrew D. Stephens, of Benton, and C. C. Slocum, of Iowa County, to locate a State road from Marengo to Fort Clarke.
Section 30 of "An act in relation to certain State roads therein named," approved January 22, 1853, appointed George W. Vorees, of Marshall; David F. Bruner, of Tama, and A. D. Stephens, of Benton, to locate a State road from A. D. Stephens’ to the southeast corner of Hardin County.
Section 49, of the same act, appointed E. A. Brown, of Black Hawk; John Blunt, of Chickasaw, and W. C. Stanberry, of Benton, to locate a State road from Fremont to Waterloo; thence to John H. Messinger’s in Bremer County; thence to Bradford, in Chickasaw County.
Section 1 of "An act to establish certain State roads." Approved January 24, 1855, appointed James B. Kelsey and Thomas B. Stone, of Linn, and Harrison Bristol, of Benton, to locate a State road from Cedar Rapids via Bear Creek Mill, Vinton and Waterloo, to Cedar Falls.
Section 12, of the same act, appointed Andrew Stein, of Benton; John Ross and David Bruner, of Tama, to locate a State road from Cedar Rapids to Toledo.
Section 9 of "An act in relation to State roads," approved January 28, 1857, appointed (Wesley) Whipple, of Benton; James Barclay, of Black Hawk, and Thomas R. Talbot, of Fayette, to locate a State road from Vinton, via Barclay, Fairbank and Linn, to West Union.
Section 12 of the same act appointed F. A. Morgan, of Keokuk; Martin Ballard, of Iowa, and S. P. Price, of Benton, to locate a State road from Sigourney, via Millersburg, Genoa Bluffs and Kosta, to Vinton.
Towns and Cities of Benton County
[The first town laid out in Benton County was in the northeast part of the county, in 1847; but, for convenient reference, all the towns in the county are inserted here.]
Marysville, located on the north twenty acres of the west half of the northeast quarter of Section 34, Township 86, Range 9, was laid out May 5, 1847, by F. J. Rigaud, County Surveyor; Joseph Remington, proprietor. Plat recorded May 10, 1847, at 8 ‘clock A. M. This is the oldest town in the county, and was well known to the early settlers as "Hoosier Point." The post office at this point is now called Urbanna.
Vinton was located by the Commissioners to locate the county seat, 1846, on the northeast quarter of Section 21, Township 85, Range 10, and named Northport by the first Board of County Commissioners, and ordered to be surveyed in July, 1846; but a new Board was elected in August, and the record was delayed until February 12, 1848, when it was recorded by Irwin D. Simison, County Surveyor. The plat was signed by Samuel M. Lockwood, Loyal F. North and Thomas Way, County Commissioners, and by them named Vinton, in honor of a Member of Congress from Ohio who was anxious to perpetuate his name in this way. The town has no existence now, and its territory is included in the limits of the present city of Vinton.
Fremont, located on Lots 5, 6 and 7, of the west half of Section 16, Township 85, Range 10, "which point being voted for at the August election, 1849, by a majority, to be the seat of Justice of Benton County."
Shellsburg, on the southwest quarter of Section 11 and partly on the northwest quarter of Section 14, township 84, Range 9; surveyed by H. M. Drury, Deputy County Surveyor, June 16, 1854; Jacob Cantonwine, Christiana Cantonwine, Emanuel S. Fluke and Mary Fluke, proprietors.
Grand Gulf, o the southwest quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 17, Township 85, Range 10; surveyed April 17, 1854, by H. M. Drury, Deputy County Surveyor; John Alexander and Nancy Alexander, proprietors. Now a part of the city of Vinton.
Geneva, on the northwest quarter of the southwest quarter and the southwest quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 3, township 84, Range 11; surveyed by Wesley Whipple; R. N. Van Cleaf and Susanna Van Cleaf, proprietors. Plat filed for record March 20, 1855.
Wilmington, located on Section 4, Township 85, Range 9; surveyed by Wesley Whipple, November 9, 1855; Lewis Berry, Eliza Berry, Conrad Binkhart and Sarah Binkhart, proprietors. Plat filed for record, 1858.
Irving, on the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 6, Township 82, Range 12; October 10, 1855; Samuel Hutton, proprietor.
Benton City, located on Section 20, Township 85, Range 9, south of the river; surveyed by Joseph Owen; John Royal, Catherine Royal, John Graham and Lucinda Graham, proprietors. Plat filed for record June 16, 1856. This was then a thriving little town. John Graham built a hotel there in 1855-6. It was probably surveyed as early as 1854-5. Dr. S. E. Warner located there in 1855. W. C. Stanberry advertised in August, 1855, at Benton City, "the largest and best-selected stock of goods ever offered for sale in Benton County." Benton City A. F. & A. M. was instituted U. D. October 31, 1855, and chartered June 4, 1856, but was removed to Shellsburg prior to 1864. The line of the B., C. R. & N. R. R. was first located to pass through or near the town, but the location was afterward changed. The glory of the town long since departed, and it no longer exists save in history.
Eden, south half of the southwest quarter of Section 1, and part of Section 12, Township 85, Range 10; surveyed by Newell Colby, January 14, 1856; Jacob Leamer and Rebecca Leamer, proprietors. Plat filed for record January 19, 1856.
Guinnville, part of the northeast quarter of Section 30, Township 82, Range 12; surveyed by Wesley Whipple, October 30-31, 1856; John E. S. Gwinn and Caroline Gwinn, proprietors. Plat filed for record November 8, 1856.
Brooklyn, in Benton and Black Hawk Counties; surveyed April 3, 1856, by N. Colby; H. N. Brooks, proprietor. Plat filed for record March 13, 1857. Defunct.
Williamsburg, on Section 11, Township 86, Range 10; surveyed by Wesley Whipple, March 20, 1857; William L. Jones, Abigail Jones, L. W. Bryson and Mary A. Bryson, proprietors. Plat filed for record March 31, 1857.
West Vinton, on the southwest quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 17, Township 85, Range 10; surveyed by Wesley Whipple, March 25, 1857; Edwin Humphreville, I. C. Rhodabeck, Hannah B. Stoughton and William Stoughton, proprietors. Plat filed for record March 30, 1857. Now a part of Vinton City.
Manatheka, parts of Sections 26 and 35, Township 86, Range 9 (near Marysville); surveyed by Wesley Whipple, March 31, 15857; William Remington, Elizabeth Remington, John Ferguson, Nancy Ferguson, Theodore Stevens and Lucy Stevens, proprietors. Plat filed for record April 4, 1857.
Belle Plaine, on the east half of and northwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 14, Township 82, Range 11; surveyed by G. F. Kirby in the Spring of 1862; John I. Blair, proprietor; G. F. Kirby, Surveyor. Plat filed for record May 12, 1862.
Blairstown, on the southwest quarter of Section 13 and the southeast quarter of Section 14, Township 82, Range 11; surveyed by G. F. Kirby in the Spring of 1862; John I. Blair, proprietor. Plat filed for record May 1, 1862.
Norway (now Florence), on the northeast quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 20, Township 82, Range 9; surveyed June 10, 1863, by P. P. Smith, County Surveyor; Ormond Tuttle and Helen Sophia Tuttle, proprietors. Plat filed for record July 21, 1863.
Luzerne, on the northeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 24, Township 82, Range 12, and partly on Section 19; B. B. Hent, Surveyor; Isaac B. Howe and Hannah R. Howe, proprietors. Plat filed for record April 17, 1868.
Mount Auburn, on the south half of Section 14, Township 86, Range 11; surveyed by P. F. Randall; Milton S. Hall, Sarah A. Hall, Thomas D. Lewis and Mary A. Lewis, proprietors. Plat filed for record June 19, 1871.
Benton, on Sections 28 and 29, Township 85, Range 11; surveyed by C. G. Johnson in April, 1873; Jonathan Barkdoll and Susan Barkdoll, proprietors. Plat filed for record July 22, 1873.
Watkins, on the southwest corner of Section 23 and the northwest corner of Sec. 26, Township 82, Range 10; surveyed by Hiram Lipe in may, 1874; Charles G. Turner and Eliza Turner, proprietors. Plat filed for record Aug. 16, 1874.
The Courts in 1848
April 24, 1848, the court was again held in the house of Thomas Way. James P. Carleton was Judge; John Royal, Sheriff*; John Alexander, Prosecuting Attorney; I. D. Simison, Clerk; and the court records show that I. M. Preston, S. A. Bissell, William Leffingwell and William Smyth were present as attorneys. The second grand jury was impaneled as follows: E. B. Spencer, John S. Forsyth, Jacob Remington, Samuel Osborn, Joseph Bryson, Beal Dorsey, Charles Cantonwine, Loyal F. North, George Cantonwine, William Ball, Stedman Penrose, Michael Cantonwine, Jacob Cantonwine, Elias H. Keyes, Michael Zimmerman and Frederick Zimmerman. John S. Forsyth was appointed Foreman, and the jury retired to the timber as before for consultation, in charge of the Bailiff, David S. Pratt.
At this term, the first petit jury was impaneled as follows: James Downs, Joseph Sanders, William Mitchell, James M. Denison, Price Kendrick, Lyman D. Bordwell, Thomas Lockhart, David S. Way, David Cantonwine, William Davis, John Hendershott, James Worley, Welcom Martin, George B. Pratt, Nathaniel Adams, Chauncy Leverich, Charles Hinkley, Thomas Way, Samuel Stephens, William Davis Jr., and John Mason.
The indictment against Joel Leverich for passing counterfeit money, continued from last term, was quashed. The other indictment against Leverich, for having implements for counterfeiting in his possession, was tried, but the jury brought in a verdict of "not guilty." Joel Leverich, although a member, it is said, of a gang of outlaws infesting the country at that time, was one of the shrewdest of the tribe, and never could be caught. He always "got off," as in this instance.
September 18, 1848, the third term of court was opened in the county, and was held, so says the record, in the log court house at Vinton, the first and the last term of curt ever held at the original county seat. Although the record declares that this term of court was held at the court house, the facts are that the court assembled there, but there was no roof on the building, no floor – nothing but the bare log walls. A seat was provided for the Judge in one corner by placing a piece of board across the corner in the crevices between the logs, and a shower coming up, some more pieces were thrust into the chinks over his head to protect him from the rain. Court was opened in this primitive "court house," and then adjourned to the cabin of William Davis, which stood on Section 15, where the business of the term was transacted. The grand jury occupied a log blacksmith shop in the vicinity.
At this term John Lewis recovered $300 of Samuel K. Parker for slander. Charles Hinkley, indicted for arson, was tired, convicted, and sentenced to pay a fine of one cent and be imprisoned in the State Penitentiary for one year. This was the first conviction for a criminal offense in the county.
*(In the early days of Vinton, two of the county officers agreed together to celebrate Christmas "in the good old way," had have a jolly time. It is said that when lawyer "Jack" came to Benton County he provided himself with a good supply of "Maynard & Noyes’" best black ink in quart bottles. These bottles were placed on the shelf in "the house that Jack built," and the neighbors, seeing a good opportunity to "borrow some ink till they could send and get some," some of the bottles, as a consequence, were soon emptied of their contents, but were replaced on the shelf along with the full ones. The two friends were greatly perplexed for something to put their whisky into. Suddenly Lawyer J. bethought him of the empty ink bottles, and seizing a couple of them, joined his friend, who was shivering in the cold, and together they washed them in the creek. They were soon filled with "corn juice." But the county officials could not rest content with it all in the bottles, so they transferred a generous portion of it to their capacious "bread baskets." The effect of all this was to produce a feeling of drowsiness, an for a time sought repose in a friendly fence corner; become tired of this, they made their way to the house to sit by the fire. But Jack could find neither wood, matches nor shavings; however, placing the bottles in their old places on the shelf for safety until he could raise a light. Not succeeding in this, he sought consolation in the "tanglefoot," and taking down a bottle, courteously handed it to his friend, who hastily swallowed a heavy draught; but instead of peaceably handing it back to his waiting companion, he accused him of playing a trick o him by filling the bottle with something besides whisky, and threw the contents in Mr. Jack’s face and on his clothing; the assaulted man rushed into the other room, and after some words they both settled down to rests. Early in the morning they were startled by the piercing scream of jack’s wife, who ejaculated that "there was a big nigger in her bed." A case of "mistaken identity" in the bottles was the cause, as was shown by the investigation that followed.
By joint resolution approved January 24, 1848, the General Assembly of Iowa asked for the establishment of a mail route from Tipton, Cedar County, via Pioneer Grove and Marion, to the county seat of Benton. Also of a mail route from Cedar Rapids, via the county seat of Benton, to the falls of the Cedar River in Black Hawk County.
At the election held April 3, 1848, Elias H. Keyes was elected School Fund Commissioner, receiving 38 votes; John S. Forsyth, his competitor, received 34 votes. The votes of Taylor and Polk Townships for Justices of the Peace at this election were canvassed by the County Board. In Taylor, Stephen Holcomb had 14 votes; Lester W. Hayes, 13; and Fleming Sanders, 12. In Polk, John S. Forsyth had 19 votes, and Edwin B. Spencer, 16.
The abstract of the votes for county officers at the election, August 7, 1848, is not among the papers found by the historian, but Elias H. Keyes appears to have been elected Clerk of the Commissioners’ Court, and Loyal F. North re-elected County Commissioner. For State officers, however, the abstract is preserved:
For Auditor of State – Joseph F. Fales had 44 votes; William A. Warren, 26 – 70 votes cast.
For Secretary of State – John M. Coleman had 28 votes; Josiah H. Bonney, 39; William A. Warren, 1.
For State Treasurer – Robert Holmes had 27 votes; Morgan Reno, 42.
For Member of Congress – Timothy Davis received 29 votes; Shepherd Leffler, 41.
From these returns it appears that the voting population of Benton County had not materially increased since 1847. One can scarcely realize, as he visits this rich and densely populated county in 1878, that only thirty years ago there were only seventy voters within its limits.
Among the curiosities of thirty years ago is a bond given by Chauncy Leverich, with G. A. Thompson for security, from which it appears that "Chancy," as his name is signed, took out a license on the 3rd day of July, 1848, to keep a grocery for one year. The bond as in the penal sum of $100, and the condition was as follows: "now the condition of the above obligation is such, that if the said Chancy Leverich shall keep an orderly house, and will not permit any unlawful, gaming or riotous conduct in or about his house, then this obligation to be void, otherwise to be and remain in full force and virtue in law." That the keeper of a grocery should be required to take out license and give bond, sounds odd in these later days; but it must be remembered that in those early days a grocery was a saloon as well as a grocery store, and Leverich drew around him the more reckless and lawless elements in a community that was then under the dominion of outlaws and horse thieves. The bond was given to comply with the forms of law; and if it was violated, as it probably was hundreds of times, it was neither expected nor designed that it was to be enforced. If it was, there was no court to enforce it.
Scholars in 1848
Among a lot of old papers on the floor of the vault in the Court House, while searching for lost records the historian found two, from which the following statement is compiled. It is proper to remark that the inspectors reported "no schools":
November, 1848, L. F. North, School Inspector of Canton Township, reported the number of schools in District No. 1 to be 19; in District No. 2, 42, and District No. 3, 12. I. D. Simison, Inspector of Taylor Township in 1848, made a more elaborate report, and included the heads of families and the number of scholars in each family, as follows: District No. 1, William Mitchell’s family had 4; Albert Johnson, 1; Thomas Way, 6; Mrs. Smith, 4; Mrs. M. M. Way, 1; Michael Zimmerman, 5; David Wilson, 6. Total, 23.
District No. 2, John Edwards, 2; John Alexander, 3; Varnum Helm, 4; Daniel Carlisle, 1; George Adams, 4; Mrs. Chauncy Leverich, 1; William Davis, 1; John royal, 2; James Sanders, 4; Francis Sanders, 1; G. B. White, 4. Total, 28.
Re-Location of the Seat of Justice
The town of Northport was laid out in 1846; was re-surveyed and re-christened Vinton in February, 1848, on the northeast quarter of Section 21, on the spot where the County Seat Commissioners drove the county seat stake. During the following Summer an Fall, Chauncy Leverich, John Alexander and others interested in property lying nearer the river, where the present business portion of Vinton now stands, determined to make an attempt to move the county seat, and accordingly circulated a petition asking the Legislature to grant a re-location by a vote of the people. To prevent all opposition and make the thing doubly sure, a the same time when they circulated the petition they carried a remonstrance, which they asked all to sign who would not put their names to the petition. In that way they secured the signatures of nearly all the citizens of the county, and when obtained, they cut the names form the remonstrance and attached them to the petition. By this sharp practice, they were able to make a very strong showing to the General Assembly, and without opposition secured the passage of an act as follows:
An act to provide for the location of the county seat of Benton County;
Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Iowa, That the legal voters of Benton County shall vote, at the next April election, for such pointes in said county as they may deem proper; and if, upon canvassing the votes, it is ascertained that any one point has received a majority of votes over all others, then the point receiving such majority shall be and remain the permanent seat of justice of said Benton County; but if no point shall receive such majority, then and in that case the said legal voters of said county shall vote for the two points receiving the highest number of votes at said April election, at the next August election, and the point receiving the highest number of votes at said August election shall be and remain the permanent seat of justice of said Benton County.
At the election held on the 2nd day of April, 1849, the friends of removal came very near removing the county seat farther than they desired – to the other side of the river, two or three miles from the present Court House. One more vote for that location would have carried it.
The following extract from the abstract of the votes, made by E. H. Keyes, Clerk of the Board of County Commissioners, and Fleming Sanders and David S. Way, Justices of the Peace, is an interesting item of history:
"The southeast fourth of the northeast quarter of Section three (3) in Township 85 north of Range 10 west of the 5th P. M., received fifty-seven votes for the county seat of Benton County; Lots No. 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the west half of Section 16, Township 85 north of Range 10 west of the 5th P. M., as shown by the plat made by the Trustees of Taylor Township, in the county aforesaid, made on the 17th day of March, 1848, had fifty-seven votes.
A Compact and Its Result
By the terms of the act, if no point received a majority of the votes at the April election, the people were required to vote again in August. But the closeness of the vote in April alarmed those who had anticipated no serious opposition to their scheme of moving the seat of justice from Northport (Vinton) to a spot nearer the river. In April, both points voted for, received an equal number of votes. Mr. Bordwell was unavoidably called away on that day. He, had he remained at home, would have voted, as he says, in favor of the location on Section 3 which would have moved the county seat some distance father than was desirable. Something must be done. "Uncle Tom" Way had control of seven votes. At the April election, he had voted the "seven" in favor of Section 3. Should he repeat the operation in August, the result might be fatal to the hopes of the west side people. At this junction, John Alexander and John Royal went over to Way’s and remained there a day and a night, and at last made a solemn compact with "Uncle Tom," that if he (Way) would attend the election and vote his "seven" in favor of Lots 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the west half of Section 16 for the county seat, they (Royal and Alexander) would exert all their influence to elect him (Way) to the office of Treasurer and Recorder. The compact made, the high contracting parties shook hands across the head of a whisky barrel, and Alexander and Royal, elated with their success, returned to the future site of the capital of Benton County, confident that the election, so far as their wishes and interests were concerned, would result as they desired.
On the day of the election, "Uncle Tom," with his crowd and with the inevitable whisky jug slung over his shoulder, appeared, voted his "seven" as he had promised, and the canvass of the votes by Clerk Keyes and Justices F. Sanders and Charles Cantonwine showed the result as follows: Lots 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the west half of Section 16, township 85, range 10, received sixty-two (62) votes; the southeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 3, Township 85, Range 10, received twenty-five (25) votes. This settled the vexed question, and Vinton was no longer the county seat of Benton County.
Way had faithfully fulfilled his part of the contract. Were the other parties as faithful? The impartial historian is compelled to admit that the weight of evidence is against them; for, upon counting the votes for Treasurer and Recorder, it was found that Way had received only thirty-six votes, while his successful competitor, Johnson, received forty-four votes.
In November following, James Leverich, who had purchased the claim of Chauncy, laid out a town on the lots above mentioned, and called it Fremont, in honor of Gen. John C. Fremont, which became the capital of Benton County.
The First Court House
was a small, two-story frame building, that stood on the southeast corner of the Public Square. The frame was put up, the roof covered, and the walls sided up before the town was platted (probably before he votes were taken as above), by Leverich and other friends of removal, as an inducement for the people to vote for that location. It thus stood, a mere shell, without floors, doors or windows, until 1851-2, when it was partially finished. A floor was laid in the lower story, doors and windows put in, so that the District Court could occupy it. The upper story was finished and divided into two rooms, in one of which the county offices were located. A flight of rough stairs on the outside of the building led to the second story.
The Election of 1849
On the 2nd day of April, 1849, Joseph Rouse was elected Recorder and treasurer, probably to fill a vacancy, over Aaron Haines, by a vote of forty-seven to forty-two.
The election in Canton Township was held at the house of Jacob Cantonwine, and l. F. North had eight votes and Charles Cantonwine seven votes for Justice of the Peace. "David Cantonwine had six votes, E. R. Buchanan had two votes, William Fish had four votes, William Saws had two votes, P. Kislinger had one vote," but for what office does not appear.
The abstract of the number of votes at the election for county officers on Monday, August 6, 1849, shows a slight increase of voting population:
For recorder and Treasurer – James Johnson had 44 votes; Thomas Way, 36.
For Coroner – George B. Pratt had 11 votes; C. J. Pitts, 1; Charles N. Moberly, 10; James Hamting, 1.
For Sheriff – Cyrus C. Charles had 45 votes; James Downs, 41.
For County Commissioners’ Clerk – James Johnson had 8 votes; George B. Pratt, 25; A. Cantonwine, 6; E. H. Keyes, 14; J. T. Simison, 1.
For Prosecuting Attorney – John Alexander had 10 votes.
For County Surveyor – I. D. Simison had 60 votes; D. Simison, 1.
For County Commissioner – Samuel M. Lockhart had 40 votes; L. D. Bordwell, 16; I. D. Simison, 1.
For Clerk of the District Court – I. D. Simison had 45 votes.
For Sealer of Weights and Measures – William Ball had 20 votes.
For Judge of Probate – John Alexander was elected; vote not given.
E. H. Keyes resigned the office of Clerk of the Board of County Commissioners, October 1, 1849, which would indicate that George B. Pratt, elected as above, declined to accept. W. R. Johnson appears to have been appointed Clerk pro tem.
The First Mill
erected in Benton County was built on Mud Creek, about a mile and a half southeast of Fremont, in 1849. The enterprising proprietors were John Royal and Cyrus C. Charles.
Some time in 1849, a stranger accompanied by a woman appeared in Vinton. He gave the name of Ketchum, and soon after his advent engaged in the saloon business. Erelong a woman came to town, and gave her name as Mrs. Ketchum, the lawfully wedded wife of the saloon keeper, whom she had come to see. She did not propose to tolerate Ketchum's weakness for getting married while she was still able to get around. She was rather an energetic woman, for she had a warrant for her husband's arrest placed in the hands of Deputy Marcus Webb within two hours after her arrival. Webb made the arrest, took his prisoner before Justice Brubacher, and, having other business to attend to, left him in the custody of Constables Stanbury and Bob Quail. Doctor Buffum was engaged by the prisoner to defend him, and had gone with him to Justice Brubacher's. Pending the appearance of witnesses, a jug of whisky was sent for, and the Justice and the attorney for the defense sat down to play a friendly game of "seven-up." Quail having been out late the night before, went into an adjoining room, lay down, and was fast asleep. About the time Brubacher was two points ahead in his second game with Buffum, Ketchum asked permission to leave the room a few minutes, which Brubacher considerately granted. That was the last ever seen of Ketchum in Benton County. He had made good time. Diligent search was made, but he was beyond the reach of the officers. Brubacher was indicted at the next term of the District Court for keeping a gambling house, and both he and Buffum were indicted for gambling; but owing to informality in the papers, both were discharged.
In the Spring of 1850, Major Wood, of the regular army, encamped in the southeastern part of Iowa Township with two companies of dragoons and a detachment of infantry. The cavalry were commanded by Major Olmstead, and infantry by Major Johnson. The encampment was named "Camp Buckenough." This location was made a temporary depot of supplies which were being hauled form the Mississippi River to the stockade which had been ordered to be erected where Fort Dodge now stands. The command remained two or three months, when the battalion was divided, part being sent to Fort Leavenworth, and the remainder to Fort Dodge.
Elections of 1850
The Spring election in 1850 occurred on Monday, April 1. At this election, James F. Beckett was elected School Fund Commissioner and also Commissioners’ Clerk.
At the general election held August 5, 1850, the following county officers were elected:
County Commissioner – James Rice received 66 votes; his competitor, E. H. Keyes, 39—total, 105.
Charles W. Buffum was elected Clerk of the District Court, having received 40 votes; I. D. Simison, 26; William S. Read, 4, and John Brachen, 2, for the same office.
For Commissioners’ Clerk – James F. Beckett received 14, and James Johnson, 1.
For State Officers the vote of Benton County at this election was as follows:
For Governor – James L. Thompson received 46 votes; Stephen Hempstead, 58.
For Secretary of State – Isaac Cook received 55 votes; George W. McCleary, 51.
For Auditor of State – William H. Seevers received 51 votes; William Patter, 54.
For Treasurer of State – Evan Jay received 51 votes; Israel Kister, 55.
For Representative to Congress, Second District – William H. Henderson received 53 votes; Lincoln Clark, 54: total vote for Congressman, 107.
Although the Indians ceded a portion of the county to the United States in 1837 and the remainder in 1843, they roved over the country as late as 1854. They had a favorite camping place on the east side of the Cedar River, near Mr. Thomas Way's. The spot was chosen partly, perhaps, because "Uncle Tom" always had a good supply of fire-water. They came here every year and spent several days in celebrating some of their mystic rites, religious dances, etc. Upon one occasion, Mr. James Rice gave them a fine puppy, which they sacrificed to the Great Spirit with much ceremony, holding a war dance as a part of the exercises. The Indians were many times accused of committing depredations of which they were not guilty. They were very convenient scapegoats for horse thieves. Berry Way, "Uncle Tom's" renegade son, used to steal and run off their ponies during their annual encampment near his father's house. Stealing them during the night, Berry would always be at home the next morning, and when the "reds" entered complaint, he was on hand to assist them in efforts to discover the missing animals, but always sent them on the wrong trail.
Berry Way and another young man, well known thieves of Benton County, made a trip through Black Hawk County in March, 1846, stopping all night at a logging cabin, built by "Cedar" Johnson a year or two before, near Big Creek, then occupied by James Newell. The next morning they proceeded up the river to the vicinity of the Turkey Foot Forks; spent that night with "Big Wave," a prominent Winnebago Chief, and to requite his hospitality, stole two valuable horses from him before daylight in the morning. About twenty of Big Wave's band pursued them, and found them at a singing school near Center Point. They threatened to shoot the trio, but the settlers interfered, and persuaded the Indians it would be best to place the thieves under arrest and let the law take its course. The scoundrels were accordingly confined in jail at Marion, but soon after escaped.
The Dark Ages
On the confines of American civilization, as its resistless tide swept onward toward the setting sun, and its waves broke against the boundaries of Indian territory only to gather new strength, overleap them and rush onward to the next barrier, there were always hovering, like spies in advance of an invading army, a swarm of bold, reckless, adventurous and enterprising spirits, many of whom were criminals. The broad, untroden prairies and the trackless forests furnished admirable refuges for those whose crimes had driven them from companionship with honest and law-abiding people, to seek both safety and immunity beyond the reach of Sheriffs and courts of law.
Hovering there, where courts and civil processes could afford but a weak bulwark of protection, or none at all, against their evil and dishonest purposes and practices, the temptation to prey upon the comparatively unprotected sons of toil, rather than to gain a livelihood by the slow process of honest industry, has often proved too strong to be resisted. Some of these reckless characters sought the outskirts of advancing settlements for the express purpose of theft and robbery; some, because they dare not remain within reach of efficient laws; others, of limited means, but ambitious to secure homes of their own, and with honesty of purpose, exchanged the comforts and protection of law afforded by the old, settled and populous districts for life on the frontiers, and not finding all that their fancy painted, were tempted into crime by apparent immunity from punishment, or driven to it for protection against their immediate neighbors. In new countries, the proportion of the dishonest and criminal has often been greater than in the older and better regulated communities where courts are permanently established, and the avenues of escape from punishment for wrongdoing more securely guarded.
When the whites first began to enter upon and possess "the beautiful land" west of the Mississippi, there were but two counties north of the State of Missouri and west of the "Missis-Sepo" – The Mighty River. These were Dubuque and Des Moines. They extended from the flag-staff at Fort Armstrong, fifty miles westward, and from Missouri State line northward to the line of the neutral ground, or Winnebago Reserve. It was a vast extent of country, which afforded secure concealment for a horde of outlaws and desperadoes who preceded permanent settlement, and sought abiding places on the extensive western boundary of these two counties, as near the Indians as they could dwell in safety.
And when the rich prairies, away from the immediate vicinity of the Mississippi, began to attract honest immigration, the earliest settlers generally found these characters in advance of them, and others came to remain for a season in the midst of the industrious, toiling pioneers, to prey upon their substance, knowing full well that in the then unorganized condition of society, they were sure of comparative freedom and immunity from detection and punishment.
In 1837, when the second Indian purchase in Iowa was made, again there was a gathering of these reckless, daring law-breakers on its western confines. About that time, the country began to be flooded with counterfeit money – in fact, it is said, there was more counterfeit money than there was of good. Occasionally – and the occasions were rather more frequent than angels’ visits – a horse would be stolen. No one could tell where the counterfeit money came from, not where the stolen horse was hidden. At last horse stealing became so general and was so successfully prosecuted that when a farmer missed a horse from his stable or his pasture, he never hunted for him beyond a half mile from his premises. It was useless, the gang was so well organized, and had such a perfect system of stations, agents, signs and signals.
As has been shown, a strip of land on the east side of this county, comprising about one Range (9th) of townships, was embraced within the limits of "one million, two hundred and fifty thousand acres" purchased by the government of the United States from the confederate tribes of the Sac and Fox Indians, at a treaty held at the City of Washington September 21, 1837. This part of the county was open for settlement, therefore, for about six years before the remaining portion was vacated by the Indians, May 1, 1843. The land was not surveyed, and very few settlers located in the county prior to 1843. Shortly after the Indians were removed, in May of that year, settlements began to increase, and as the county began to be more populous, a number of persons settled in Linn County, and some of them over the Linn County line, on the strip above mentioned, whose habits and practices gave rise to the suspicion that they belonged to a regularly organized gang of law breakers, horse thieves and counterfeiters. They had no visible means of support, and were almost constantly coming and going, wore good clothes – that is to say, they dressed better than the honest, toiling farm makers – had plenty of money, and were ready at all times and on all occasions to pay their way.
These people were shrewd, cunning and secret in their business maneuvers. To their immediate neighbors they were obliging, kind, and charitable where charity was needed. They wore an outward garb of respectability, and so hedged themselves as to escape detection and exposure for many years.
Nor was this bold and illegal organization of recent date, nor was it born on Iowa soil. During the Revolutionary war the lion-hearted colonists had not only to contend with the forces of George III and his Hessian mercenaries, but with a lass of craven spirits at home who fought on the side of the King, and were called Tories. These were seldom met in pen field, but their work was robbing, plundering and murdering the unprotected families of the patriot soldiers under Washington. Full of intense hatred against their rebel neighbors who were fighting for liberty and a government of their own, when the war ended and this became a free and independent nation, these Tories and guerrillas of Virginia and Pennsylvania sought refuge on the frontiers west of the Alleghenies, became outlaws and thieves, perfected an organization, and from that day until the present they and their descendants have gradually retired before the Westward march of civilization, preying upon the industries of the pioneers of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska in turn. About eighty years ago, a party of them removed to the frontiers of Ohio, and established their stations form the southeastern part of that State to Indiana; nor did the gang become extinct there until about 1848.
About fifty years ago, John Brody, Bill Driscoll and others, driven at last form the Clear Fork of the Mohican River, in Richland (now Ashland) County, Ohio, about 1830-2, sought refuge in Steuben County, Indiana. In two or three years, however, they, in connection with others of the gang, became so notorious as to arouse the entire country against them, and they were again forced to leave a region that had become too warm for them, and flee Westward. About 1835 they found their way to the Rock River country, in Illinois, and Brody settled in a grove since and still known as Brody’s Grove, in Dement Township, Ogle County, Ill. For a time that entire region was completely under the control of the gang. They elected Justices of the Peace and Constables, and generally had supreme control of affairs. One of them, Charles Oliver, came very near being elected Justice of the Peace in Rockford, and in 1843, the same Charles Oliver was one of a party that robbed the store of David Bierer, in Colesburg, Delaware County, Iowa.
At last, however, the honest settlers organized themselves as Regulators or Vigilantes, determined to rid themselves of the gang. Two of the Driscolls were tried, condemned and shot by about 500 infuriated settlers, and Brody and other suspected members of the brood were warned to leave the county. They left at once, and, true to their instincts, they came west across the Mississippi and settled in the valley of the Cedar, establishing their stations in almost every settlement in the Territory. Brody and his sons, John, Stephen, William and Hugh, as stated in the History of Cedar County, "were among the first settlers in Linn County, in 1839, where their houses became refuges and hiding places for their accomplices in crime and villainy." In 1843, Stephen, Jesse and Hugh Brody and David Wilson, whose brother (a member of the gang) was shot by a party of settlers on the prairie in the southwestern part of Delaware County, and some others established themselves in Benton County. Of the Brody family who settled in Benton, Hugh alone had the reputation of being a decent citizen. "The principal thing against him," says an old settler, familiar with the history of the county, "was that he would sometimes go bail for his brothers when they were caught." But this was only natural.
In Cedar County, Squires, Conlogue, Stoutenberg (alias Case) and Gove were members of the band; and in Linn, Joel Leverich was one of the leading spirits. Chancy Leverich, who built the first cabin o n the present site of Vinton, was also generally supposed to be intimately connected with it.
This gang operated over a large scope of country, and with so many members located in Cedar, Linn, Benton and other counties, such secure hiding places, and so many of the gang coming and going, it is but little wonder that the people came to live in constant fear and dread. But the villains worked so cautiously and secretly as to be almost past finding out. Horse stealing became so common that a man who owned a good horse never presumed to leave him over-night in an unlocked stable, and, in many instances, farmers and horse owners slept in their stables with their rifles by their sides.
These outlaws, systematically engaged in horse stealing and other illicit occupations generally indulged in by frontier banditti, acquired such power and influence in the county, as, for a time, to force a suspension of all law and judicial proceedings. The three or four years prior to 1851 are generally referred to by old settlers of Benton County as the "dark ages."
From the time of the assembling of the last court in 1848 until the first court in 18151, the horse thieves were in the ascendancy, and threatened summary vengeance on any and all persons who should dare to assist in any attempt to recover stolen property, and boldly asserted that no officer dared to enforce the law against them. They were found on the juries, they sometimes elected Justices of the Peace and Constables, and generally had their own way. Their open and bold defiance of law and their numerous depredations at last aroused the people, who, convinced that the law was powerless to protect them against the depredations of the gang, determined to protect themselves. Meetings were held in many of the counties, and in the counties of Clayton, Delaware, Buchanan, Linn and Benton, an organization was perfected called the Regulators, or Vigilance Committee. This, for a time, put some check upon the movements of the horse thieves; but even this was soon defied, especially in Benton County, where there were but few members of the organization, and the condition of the people became deplorable indeed. There were no courts in the county for three years, and some of the leading men were doing all they could to deter Judge Carleton from coming to the county to hold court. The horse thieves defied law and Regulators, or "lynchers," as they came to be called, and the Regulators defied the horse thieves and took the law into their own hands. Every person visiting the county was spotted and watched. If he called at the cabin of any of the gang, or if suspected of sympathizing with them, he was promptly dealt with. The Vigilance Committee was organized for the purpose of aiding in the arrest and conviction of offenders; but it was soon found that while it was easy to arrest them, they almost invariably escaped the just penalty of their crimes. Consequently, the Regulators soon wearied of the farce, took the law into their own hands, and inflicted swift, summary, and not always deserved, punishment.
During the "dark ages," the Sheriff of Linn County would frequently attempt to make arrests of desperadoes having their headquarters in this county, and numerous encounters, affrays and knock-downs are related. On one occasion it is related that the Sheriff had arrested one of them, who submitted quietly, but asked permission to go to his brother’s house for some clothes. The Sheriff, who seems to have been childlike in his confidence and unsuspicious of danger, granted the request, and accompanied the prisoner to the house; but no sooner had he entered than the prisoner grasped a skillet-handle, with which the confiding Sheriff was knocked down and beaten nearly to death, after which the brothers coolly saddled their horses and rode off.
But statements of this character very soon lose their original truthfulness, and the careful historian, in sifting them, always finds more or less of additional tradition mingled with them.
After a time, it came to be that between the horse thieves and robbers on the one side, and the self-styled "Regulators" or "Vigilance Committees" on the other, no peaceable, law-abiding citizen was safe from molestation. For three years, courts were not held in the county, and some of the officials were suspected of being in sympathy with the thieves and robbers, while others wren known to be active members of the "Regulators." For a time, it was uncertain which party was the most damaging to the county, as both of them often prevented the peaceable administration of the aw, and under one pretext or another postpones the holding of courts and the performance of other official duties by the regularly elected officers of the county. While many of the best men were connected with and active members of the "Regulators," yet a number of the thieving gang joined them, the better to conceal their operations, and to obtain an opportunity of wreaking vengeance upon the heads of some innocent party who had thwarted them in their plans.
At last, the better class of people, who had brooded long over their wrongs and sufferings, determined to submit no longer. They held secret meetings, which finally resulted in the adoption of resolutions declaring themselves no longer bound by the Regulators, and publicly announced a meeting for the purpose of organizing a society for the protection of person and property. And for the furtherance of equity and justice. At this meeting, the date of which unfortunately has not been preserved, a society was organized and called
The Iowa Protection Company,
under the operation of which, society was much improved, although afterward it is said that acts were committed under the name of the association that could hardly bear the light of legal investigation. But it must be remembered that the laws hardly reached Benton County at that time, and something must be pardoned to the spirit of the times.
As the constitution of this organization is a somewhat curious and important document, pertaining to the early history of Benton County, the historian has thought best to reproduce it with the names of the originators and members in this county.
The document reads as follows:
This Society shall be called the Iowa Protection Company.
Article 1. The object of this society shall be to protect the property of the members of this company, and particularly their horses, from the depredations of robbers and thieves, and also to trace out the perpetrators of thefts, rescue and restore property stolen, and assist in a due and faithful administration of law and justice.
Art. 2. The officers of this Society shall consist of a President, Secretary and treasurer, to be chosen viva vice at any stated meeting, and to hold their offices during good behavior.
Art. 3. It shall be the duty of the President to preside at all regular meetings of the Society, and, in his absence, the Society may choose a President pro tem.; and it shall be the duty of the Secretary to record all the proceedings of the Society, and preserve the same; and it shall be the duty of each member to pay to the Treasurer such sums of money from time to time as the Society shall dictate. He shall keep a correct book in which he shall enter the amount received and expended, and the purpose for which it was expended.
Art. 4. The Society shall appoint such committees as may be necessary to carry out the objects of the Society.
Art. 5. Each and every member shall sign the constitution and hold themselves subject to its provisions, and on revealing its proceedings in any respect, shall be excluded form its benefits.
Art. 6. This Society shall be convened at any time by notice from the President.
Art. 7. No person shall be entitled to vote unless a member of the Society.
Art. 8. This constitution may be altered or amended at any regular meeting, by a two-thirds vote of the members present.
Art. 9. No person shall be admitted a member of this Society who is under suspicion of horse stealing or any other theft, or for harboring thieves or robbers.
Art. 10. The regular meeting of this Society shall be the Saturday before the full of the moon, at such place as may be designated.
J. S. Epperson, W. W. Hopkins, Robt. Osborn, John S. Vanclave, John D. Vanclave, Alex. Wood, Joseph Remington, Abel Cox, S. M. Lockhart, Wm. Bells, Elijah Evans, Harrison Berry, Jacob Remington, Sanford Moberley, A. H. Johnson, Albert Johnson, Jacob Fouts, John McCoy, J. M. Broad, C. M. Moberly, Joel W. Miller, Thomas G. Lockhart, Groty Osborn, Elmyrrh Howard, John Osborn, Charles Stewart, John Sauks, Wm. A. Bryson, Hiram Roselle, Wm. A. Griffin, Wm. Riley, Spencer Johnson, James Downs, Charles Epperson, Alex. Johnson, David Jewell, George McCoy, John R. Speak, Lewis W. Bryson, Stephen D. Jewell, Davis Fouts, John C. Rouse, Martin Johnson, Lanslot Johnson, Edwin C. Hall, James Johnson, Hiram T. Epperson, and A. Taylor. The organization was perfected by the election of J. S. Forsythe as President, Elijah Evans, Secretary, and George McCoy, Treasurer.
From the organization of this company, the condition of the county began to improve. Many of the gang that had been so prominent, left the county for scenes of operation farther West, while those that remained generally abandoned their old habits and became respectable citizens. The "Lynchers" too, finding their occupation gone, quietly subsided and attended to their business.
Resumption of Judicial Authority
There is no record of any attempt to hold court in Benton County from September, 1848, until a term was appointed to be held in the Court House at Fremont on the second Monday after the fourth Monday in March, which was the 7th day of April, 1851, when court was duly opened by the Sheriff, Cyrus C. Charles; but the Judge was not present, and he adjourned until the next day, when, Judge Carleton still being absent, in obedience to a written order from His Honor, the Sheriff adjourned the court until the first Wednesday after the first Monday in June (June 4th), 1851.
Resignation of Buffum
"It was a difficult matter," says Mr. Rice, "to secure a competent person for Clerk of the Court in early times. Under the old County Commissioner system, then in vogue, it was of the utmost importance that the office of the Clerk of the District Court should be filled, as by a permanent vacancy in that office the county organization might be lost. Although there had been no court held in the county for several years, and it had been distracted by the lawless acts of both horse thieves and lynchers, the better class of the citizens looked anxiously forward to the time when civil authority should be resumed and honest men be called to the front, an they were anxious to maintain the county organization." Under these circumstances, Dr. Buffum had been elected Clerk of the District Court, in August, 1850, and James Rice, County Commissioner, C. C. Charles, Sheriff, and John Royal had become his sureties. But during the following Winter, Buffum became dissipated, and, becoming dissatisfied with his course, his sureties informed him that he must resign, which he finally did in march, 1581, only a few days before the time appointed for a term of court. But before he left the office, a large number of papers disappeared, among them indictments and other processes against some of the faithless Clerk’s friends.
At a special election held April 26th following, Irwin D. Simison was elected Clerk of the Courts, and George W. Vandaman Clerk of the Board of County Commissioners.
On Wednesday, June 4, 1851, the District Court was opened in due form by Sheriff Charles in the Court House in Fremont, but Judge Carleton was absent, and by his written order the court was again adjourned to June 18th.
When the Clerk of the District Court resigned, in March, 1851, he left the county records, bonds and public papers in a house then vacant, from which they were afterward stolen, and disappeared a short time before court was to meet. Judge Carleton had made several unsuccessful attempts to reach Benton County. The citizens had heard of the loss of the county papers, and determined to recover them an inflict summary vengeance on the guilty parties if they could discover them. Subsequently, the docket was found, but minus all the pages that had any reference to the recognizance of bonds in any manner in which the Clerk was interested; but the perpetrators of the deed had carefully concealed all traces of their guilt, and consequently were never apprehended and made to answer to the law. The citizens, actuated by one common impulse, assembled at a place called "Hoosier Point" (Marysville) and, after several speeches had been made, it was unanimously voted that a letter should be addressed to Judge Carleton, setting forth their grievances and their forbearance, and praying him to use his authority and influence in their behalf. The letter is of historical value, worth of preservation as indicating the temper of the people, and is herewith produced:
To the Hon. James Carleton, Judge of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Iowa:
We, the undersigned, citizens of Benton County, would beg leave to inform you of our present situation, which is anything but enviable, owing to the management of some of our citizens. We have not, as you know, had any court here for nearly three years, and the officers who would do their duty cannot. If a judgment is rendered, it is taken to the District Court, there to remain for years. And, to cap all, ten days before court was to have been held in Benton County, the Clerk resigned without having the cases docketed, and left the docket and papers so that the most important part have been stolen and concealed or destroyed, and when we attempt to inquire into the matter, we are answered with taunts. We are completely without law. Honest men are kept out of their just rights. Besides that, there are acts of the basest character perpetrated with impunity, and the guilty parties cannot be brought to justice. We have done all that we could do to have a better state of affairs. We have hoped for the better. We have borne it with all the patience we were masters of. But there is a point beyond with forbearance ceases to be a virtue, and we are conscious that we have reached that point. We are a law-abiding people. We love our country and love to sustain the laws; but we are as a branch cut off from the vine, and must wither without nourishment. We know of none to apply to but yourself. We call on you by all that is good, by all that binds man to his fellow-men, to assist us if it is in your power; if not, to inform us where we can get our grievances redressed. If we are left as we are, we know not what may be the result. It may lead to mob violence, which we detest.
Signed by J. S. Forsyth and many others.
The next mail brought letters from Judge Carleton, in which he assured the people that he would be in Benton County on the 18th of June, and requested the citizens to meet him at the Court House on that day, to assist in reorganizing the county. This time the people were not disappointed. Judge Carleton came, although it is said he came near losing his life while crossing Prairie Creek. With him came I. M. Preston, of Marion, W. Smith and N. W. Isbel, attorneys, and on the day appointed, for the first time in three years, there was a
Court in Benton County.
The people had assembled; Sheriff Charles was present; but there was no Clerk. Simison, who had been elected in April, intimidated, it is said, by sundry mysterious threats, had not qualified. He was induced to accept the officer, however, was sworn, and entered at once upon the discharge of his duties. The county was destitute of a Prosecuting Attorney, and the Court appointed Newman W. Isbell to act for the time. A grand jury was called and sworn, consisting of James Rice, foreman, David S. Brubaker, Lyman D. Bordwell, Abraham Garrison, Charles Epperson, Albert Johnson, H. Mahan, James F. Young, John Royal, James Johnson, Thomas Dudgon, Samuel Osborn, Charles N. Moberly, Samuel Alexander, Joseph Remington, James M. Mickle, Elijah Evans and Fleming Sanders.
The organization of this court was the commencement of a new era in Benton County. Justice was about resuming sway, and the reign of disorder, lawlessness and violence that had rendered Benton County a by-word and a reproach, and prevented its settlement and development, was practically ended. Judge Carleton had been importuned to hold court at Marysville, and had been informed that there were no honest men on the west side of the river; that the county officers were in league with outlaws and thieves, and that it was useless to attempt to hold court there; but that at Marysville, the headquarters of the Regulators, there could be some hope of obtaining an honest jury. Disregarding these efforts, Judge Carleton determined to hold court at the county seat, and energetically commenced the work of cleansing the Augean stable of Benton County. In this he was ably and earnestly seconded by Mr. Rice, foreman, and the other members of the grand jury, who found a large number of bills, notwithstanding the destruction of papers and mutilation of the docket. Among the indictments was one against "Uncle Tom" Way* for selling liquor to the Indians. This indictment appears to have been the result of an incident of the election in 1849. At that time, Berry Way had an old grudge against Tom Kendrick, and was only prevented from pounding him by his father. When Tom started for home, the vengeful Berry followed, overtook him near David Way’s cabin, and flogged him severely – might have killed him but for Mrs. Way, David’s wife, who interfered. For this aggravated assault, the pugnacious Berry was arrested, and was to be taken before Justice Forsyth, at Marysville; but Uncle Tom made an arrangement with another Magistrate, ‘Square Cox, by which, if the case could be brought before him, Berry would plead guilty and be fined $5.00 and costs. This was accordingly done, and when the sentence had been pronounced the prisoner asked the Magistrate if he would receive county warrants, at their face, in payment. Fines were paid in to the school fund at that time, and the accommodating ‘Squire, supposing that he could turn over the warrants to the Commissioners, readily consented, although county warrants were worth only twenty-five or thirty cents on the dollar. The warrants were obtained, paid over, and the prisoner discharged.
(*Way appears to have been a "character" in the early history of Benton County, and fell under the ban of the lynchers, who suspected him of complicity with horse thieves; but this suspicion appears to have been without foundation, farther than that one of his sons (Berry) was a horse thief and desperado, and that in his generous hospitality he treated all alike. His table and his jug were free, and he would entertain a Methodist minister or a horse thief with the same large-hearted liberality, never asking or caring what the occupation of his guests might be; and when any pioneer came looking for hand, he was always ready and willing to go with and show him the best land in the vicinity. He had no connection with the gang of outlaws who infested this region. Like many other early pioneers, he sold whisky to Indians and whites alike, for both were equally fond of the intoxicating fluid. "But," says Mr. Rice, his old neighbor, "he was one of the most charitable, open-hearted, generous man I ever knew.")
But when ‘Squire Cox went to pay the fine to the School Fund Commissioner, then E. H. Keyes, the worthy Magistrate was very much disgusted when the county official refused to take the warrants and demanded payment in gold. He paid it, but he was angry, and waited for revenge until this term of court, when he procured Thomas Way’s indictment as above. Way was arrested, of course, and several of his neighbors readily became his bail. Before the day fixed for the trail, the next year, Way had decided to go to California, and his family had already started. Uncle Tom remained to await the trial; but his friends, feeling satisfied that if he remained he would be convicted, persuaded him to go, assuring him that they would pay the bail if it came to that. He started; but judge the surprise of his friends when, on the day fixed for the trial, they saw Uncle Tom ride up and dismount. In answer to queries, he said he could not go and leave anybody bound for him; he had come back to be tried, and he should be acquitted. On the trial, the principal witness appeared to have lost his memory, and the first jury disagreed. James Harlan, who was Prosecuting Attorney, became convinced that there was not sufficient evidence to convict, and suggested to Judge Forsyth that it would be better to let him go, if he would pay the cost. The proposition was then made to Way, that if he would pay the costs, amounting to $25 or $30, he might go free, and he finally concluded to do so. As he mounted his horse his old friends and neighbors gathered around him, bade him good-by, and he rode away, never more to be seen in Benton County.
The reign of civil law and justice commenced in Benton County with the first term of court, in June, 1851, and from that period it rapidly emerged from the excitement, confusion and contempt for civil authority that marked the "dark ages." From that time those who had been foremost in attempting to regulate the affairs of the county by lynch law began to retire to back seats, where they have always remained. Upon closing the term, Judge Carleton urged upon the assembled citizens the supreme importance of calming the intense excitement under which they had been laboring for years; to yield cheerful and earnest obedience to the constituted authority of the State, and to select men to fill the various county offices who could and would faithfully perform the duties devolving upon them, and assuring them that in such performance their officers would be sustained and supported by the State authorities.
An Important Election
The re-establishment of the court in June, and the election in August, 1851, mark the commencement of a new era in Benton County. By Chapter 15 of the Code of Iowa, approved February 5, 1851, the Board of County Commissioners was abolished, and the office of County Judge created. The County Judge was invested with "the usual powers and jurisdiction of County Commissioner and of Judge of Probate, and to be elected at the first election holden in August after the statutes had been in force thirty days." At the August election, the ordinary political issues were ignored. A majority of the people were determined that law and order should supplant the reign of terror that had prevailed during the "dark ages," and that horse thieves and desperadoes should no longer rule, and the anti-horse-thief party triumphed by a handsome majority.
The county had been organized five years, and it will be interesting to compare the abstract of votes with that of 1846, as follows:
For County Judge – John S. Forsyth received 75 votes; D. S. Baker, 46.
For Treasurer and Recorded – J. P. Cline received 36 votes; James Johnson, 76; William Cline, 3.
For Sheriff – William Remington received 39 votes; C. C. Charles, 76.
For County Supervisor of Roads – L. F. North received 22 votes; James Rice, 62; Samuel Osborn, 28; James Downs. 1.
For Coroner – H. Mahan received 57 votes; L. D. Bordwell, 22.
For District Clerk – G. W. Vandaman received 78 votes; J. F. Beckett, 19.
For Prosecuting Attorney – William Cline received 3 votes; John Alexander 2; J. E. Vandaman, 5; J. J. Sanders, 5.
For County Surveyor – I. D. Simison received 56 votes; John Shawver, 36.
It may be well to give one or two incidents connected with the "dark ages," not only to show how horse thieves were treated, but to indicate that the election of 1851 was by no means the final end of the trials of the Benton County people. These were published in substance in a brief history of Benton County in 1868:
One Berry Way and an associate, two reckless desperadoes, took two horses from Mr. Lebo, of Linn County, in the early part of May, 1851, and sold one in Iowa, which Mr. Lebo traced and recovered. The other was taken to Wisconsin, to which Mr. Lebo traced them and recovered possession of the second horse.
Way then stole two horses from some peddlers. They followed him, and, being overtaken, he dismounted and concealed himself in the woods. He was fired upon several times but managed to escape unharmed, the horses being recovered by their owners.
He then went to Clayton County, stole a span of horses and "lit out" for Benton County with them, and, being detained by high water, with a determination worthy of a better cause, swam the streams with both horses. He managed to reach the house of Moses Bates, in Black Hawk County, and remained concealed there several days.
The Sheriff of Clayton County, learning that Way was through that section, naturally suspected him, and, with four men, started for Benton County, directing their steps to Hoosier Point (Marysville), their sudden appearance there creating no little excitement. Upon making his mission known, however, he was soon provided with all necessary assistance. A systematic scouring of the country was then inaugurated, and a division of the party was made, one starting for Bear Creek and the other in another direction, gathering assistance as they proceeded. The water at this time was very high, and they were under the necessity of fording the creeks, one party being compelled to pass the whole night in their wet clothes; the other party, however, were more successful, for they found Berry Way at his father’s, with one of the stolen horses. Arresting him, they proceeded to take him before a Justice of the Peace. On their way, they endeavored to elicit from him what he had done with the other horse, but no satisfaction could be gained. These hardy frontiersmen, however, were not to be trifled with, and they at once proceeded without ceremony to strop him and try the virtue of "hickory oil," as an "inducer." The effect was magical. The defiant and non-communicative horse purloiner of the moment before was changed "in the twinkling of an eye" to the supplicating confessor, and gave the desired information with alacrity, stating that he had left the other horse at the house of Moses Bates, in Black Hawk County; whereupon, the Sheriff, with his posse went on to Bates’ house, the remainder of the party remaining to escort the prisoner back. Upon arriving at the house of Bates, the Sheriff demanded of him the horse, but he (Bates) denied all knowledge of the same, and tried to induce them to return, by saying that if any such horses had been that way he would have seen them. His wife, who was standing behind the door, here made signs to the party to go on, and upon their starting, Bates told them that it was useless, they could not cross the stream north of his place. The woman, however, as soon as an opportunity presented itself, told one of the party that if they would not tell anyone where they got their information, she would direct them to the horse. This they readily promised, whereupon she informed them where the horse could be found, and that Way had been there and remained several days. The party at once proceeded to the thicket, as directed, and there found the horse as Way had informed them. After securing the horse, they returned to the house, by Mr. Bates was not there. The party waited and soon had the pleasure of seeing Bates and his son approach, but this time armed with guns. With this, the Sheriff produced his revolver and leveled it at Luther and son, which caused their courage to drop, and with it their guns. The officer then demanded the return of the saddle taken from the horse. Bates offered to lead them to the place of its concealment, and the crowd followed him, but no saddle was there. This so exasperated a Dutchman, who was with the party, that he suddenly threw a rope around Bates and bound him to a tree, and proceeded to apply the "hickory" with a vigor that was only equaled by the vehemence of the words, "Tam tief; Tam tief!" which were jerkingly ejaculated by the Dutchman, between the blows. Bates’ body was black and blue for weeks after this event.
The party then returned, overtaking the others. Way was then transferred to the Sheriff, who took him to Elkader, where he was tried, convicted and sentenced, by Hon. T. S. Wilson, to one year’s confinement in the penitentiary. After having been there for some time, he attempted to get into the confidence of one of the keepers, who allowed him to believe he was his friend. Way then wrote home and told his people that if they could raise him $100, he could get out. His mother raised the money and took it to him. Way then told the jailer that if he would let him escape, he would give him the $100. The jailer took the money, and as soon as court met took his prisoner into court and laid the matter before his Honor, T. S. Wilson, telling him of the bribe money, and asking what to do with it. The Judge ordered that the money be expended in defraying the expenses of Way’s trial. Way was taken back to prison, but grew morose and desperate, and finally broke jail, having never been heard of since.
Connected with the history of this "dark age" was an event which occurred on the 6th of February, 1852, at Fremont – now called Vinton – it being the trial of four of its citizens who had assisted some time before in the arresting of a thief:
A man of the name of John Adams, from Illinois, came to Benton County having stolen two horses there. He was followed by the owner, S. Raber, with four other men, who, upon arriving at Hoosier Point, called for assistance, which was readily granted by three young men volunteering from that place. They proceeded to Fremont, and arriving there about night and learning that dams had been there, but had just left, and fearing their "bird" would escape, at once renewed the search, assisted by another young man form Fremont. They soon succeeded in finding his tracks in the new-fallen snow, and, upon examination, found he was occasionally turning, turning round to look back. The company then divided into small parties, and when about seven miles from town succeeded in capturing the thief. The next day, he was taken by Mr. Raber and his party to Illinois, where he was examined and tried and eventually indicted and tired, but got clear. He then returned to Benton County, and procuring the assistance of John Alexander, swearing out warrants for the whole nine men who had captured him, charging them with "kidnapping and lynching him." The four living in Benton County gave bonds for their appearance on the 6th day of February, 1852. The day having arrived, the parties appeared: John Alexander, for the prosecution; Messrs. Smyth & Preston, of Marion, for the defense. The case caused considerable excitement, and people from all parts of the county assembled around ‘Squire Mahan’s house long before the hour of trial – many of them strangers. It is asserted by some that as many as 200 people were present. Court was at last called and the prisoners arraigned, entering their plea of "not guilty." The attorneys for the defense then moved to quash the indictment, on the ground that it contained too many counts, which motion, after being argued at great length, was finally sustained by the Court and the young men discharged, much to the satisfaction of the crowd, as was evinced by the hearty cheering which immediately followed the decision.
But, if the reforms desired did not come all at once, they came, nevertheless. When it became unsafe to steal their neighbors’ horses, the gang adopted a new dodge that worked for a time. They stole form each other. One would take a horse, run it off and sell it, informing the owner of course, to whom he sold it, and dividing the proceeds with him. With a great show of search for the stolen animal and the thief, in due time the owner would find his horse and claim him. This, however, became so unsafe for the operator that it was finally abandoned about 1854.
At the commencement of a new era in the history of the county, before proceeding farther, it may be interesting to note some incidents not hitherto mentioned, which are without date.
There is one peculiarity to be noticed: that many of the early settlers, as is usually the case in a new country, were addicted to the use of intoxicating liquors, and when two or three were gathered together the "jug" was forthcoming, and they were bound to have a good time.
Among those who held commissions of Justices of the Peace, in early times, were L. D. Bordwell, L. W. Hayes, Charles Cantonwine, Thomas Mahan, David S. Brubaker, W. C. Smith, John Royal, Elijah Evans, James Rice, Samuel Osborn and others; and Justices’ Courts were peculiar institutions, and some of their proceedings were amusing. The following, for instance, has the merit of being literally true as well as amusing, and occurred as late as 1853:
An Early Justice Court
One Mr. B_____ having run away with another man's wife, the parties were pursed. Mr. B. was captured and brought before the 'Squire Brubaker, who, after due preliminaries, proceeded to try the cause of "The People Vs. B." The witnesses and attorneys, however, not being on hand, the 'Squire, prisoner and Sheriff played cards and drank whisky.
After some delay, the parties appeared -- John Alexander for the State, and Dr. C. W. Buffum and James Wood, Esq., for the defense. The case was called; and upon the appearance of each witness upon the stand, the counsel for the defense would object to them on the ground that they were incompetent, being two-thirds drunk, and the Justice would exclaim, "Sit down, G-d d-n you!"
The case had proceeded about half-way through, when the worthy 'Squire, thinking it somewhat dry, called for liquor; but the jar was empty. He arose, staggering, to his feet, and delving his hands down into his capacious breeches-pocket, produced a quarter, with the exclamation "I (hic)go-goes a quar-(hic)-quarter; who else (hic) goes a quar-quarter?" Upon being remonstrated with, he rose, and in all his dignity exclaimed, "Gentlemen, this case has proceeded far enough without liquor, and by G-d I adjourn this court until we have had some whisky."
After indulging again from the noted jar, which was replenished by the defendant, the case proceeded. The attorneys for the defense had been having their own way, when a witness was produced on the stand whose evidence would have proved fatal to their client, and one who had not indulged in the flowing bowl. They then used a stratagem worthy of a better cause. Taking the prisoner into an adjoining room, his counsel told him to come out and confront the 'Squire, shake his fist at him and tell him as follows: "'Squire, I have heard you said you would send me to jail anyhow; now by G-d, you do it!"
The worthy magistrate was amazed. This was too much for his royal dignity. Slowly rising, he turned to the prisoner, with the exclamation: "You go to h-l!" At this, the prisoner started for the door, when the Sheriff intercepted his farther progress, and demanded of the Judge what he should do with the prisoner, when the still excited magistrate belched forth, "G-d d-n him! take him to h-l for all I care."
The Sheriff took his prisoner a short distance, and then returned to the court, saying, "'Squire, you told me to take the prisoner to h-l; we are as near that place as I want to get. Prisoner, you are discharged."
It is to be added that Mr. Wood, who appeared as counsel for defense in the case, was then working at his trade – blacksmith -- in a shop on the bank of the river, the site of which is now a part of the river bed. Mr. Wood, who still resides in Vinton, says that the above statement is substantially true; and adds that it was by his advice that the witnesses and Justice were fully plied with liquor, as he saw that was the only chance for escape his client had.
It is not to be inferred from the above that all the magistrates in the county held similar courts, or indulged in drinking to that extent while "on the bench."
He’s a Decent Man
It is related that at one time, John Kelsey, Esq., then a resident of Cedar Rapids, while on his way through the sparsely settled country, to Fremont, passed the house of Joseph Sanders. He saw a lad in the yard and reined up, when the following dialogue took place:
Stranger – "Well, my good lad, who lives here?"
Boy – "Dad and marm."
Stranger – "Oh! Um! Yes, my little man, but what are their names?"
Boy – "Joe and Nance, sir."
Stranger – "Yes, yes I know; but what are their surnames?"
Boy – "Marm haint got no surname."
Stranger – "Pretty good, my little fellow. But where is your father? Is he at home?"
Boy – "No sir; he’s gone up to ther county seat, ter th’ election."
Stranger – "To the election? Oh yes. Well, my little man, is your father a Whig?"
Boy – "No sir! Dad’s a decent man!"
Kelsey went on his way.
The New Regime
With the election of August, 1851, the system of County Commissioners terminated. Upon assuming the duties of County Judge, Mr. Forsyth discovered that the finances of the county were in a deplorable condition. The county was flooded with warrants, which had been issued without much "regard to expense," since Way and his associates had "turned over a new leaf," and commenced anew; nor was there any record of them. Nobody knew the extent of the county’s indebtedness.
But no sooner had the affairs of the county begun to assume definite shape, under the skillful and energetic management of Judge Forsyth, than the officers were startled by the large number of warrants that were presented for payment. They were presumed to have been legally issued; and if so, they must be paid. There was no escape, as there was no proof that a single warrant had been illegally issued. They were therefore paid and canceled as rapidly as the resources of the county would permit. The revenue, however, was very small, and the constant drain kept the county, as such, in very straitened circumstances for several years; and it was not until about 1854 that the affairs of the county had assumed any very tangible shape, and commenced to improve.
It is to be remarked, to the credit of Judge Forsyth and his successor, Judge Douglas, that Benton County owes much of its subsequent prosperity to their indefatigable and energetic efforts to bring order out of chaos, and to establish firmly and permanently the reign of law and order, without which no community can be prosperous and happy.
Growth of the County
From 1851, after the inauguration of the new system and the energetic efforts to put a stop to the outlawry and horse thieving, the county began to increase rapidly in wealth and population, which is clearly seen from the following table, showing the population from 1846 to 1870:
Year Popula’n Year Popula’n 1846........295 1859......8,066 1847........312 1860......8,496 1850........637 1861......9,561 1851........753 1865.....11,245 1852......1,237 1866.....14,772 1854......2,623 1869.....19,440 1856......6,217 1870.....22,213
Townships and Elections
From 1851 to 1863, there are no records accessible to show how or when the several civil townships, as they now exist, were created; nor are there any election records during that time within the knowledge of the present county officials, or assessable to the historian. There were at least four civil townships created by the County Commissioners, viz.: Canton, Polk, Taylor and Harrison.
In 1855, there were ten, and in 1860, twenty civil townships. All except those above mentioned were undoubtedly created by order of the County Court; but the Judge’s "minute books" contain no record of such action, and letters addressed to the several Township Clerks, requesting information from their early records, relating to the formation and organization of their respective townships, failed to elicit replies, with one exception, that of Wm. H. Ehred, of LeRoy.
The lack of election records is partially made up from other sources, so far as relates to the succession of county officers.
The First County Court
The first entry made in the County Judge’s "minute book," which is all the record of County Court proceedings to be found, is the following:
Be it remembered that on the ___ day of August, A. D. 1851, John S. Forsyth produced the Clerk’s certificate of election to the office of County Judge, and took an oath to discharge the duties of said office according to law.
The first recorded act of Judge Forsyth was the issuance of a marriage license, as follow:
Now, on the 19th day of August, A. D. 1851, the Treasurer’s receipt was presented, for one dollar, for a licence to authorize Lewis Furgeson and Rachael Phidela Jewel to be joined in marriage, and Thomas L. Furgeson, the Father of said Lewis, being present, gave his free concent for the license to issue. A certificate was produced from David Juel, the father of said Rachael Phidela, giving free concent that the license should issue; witnessed by Edward and Henry Juel, and sworn to by Henry Juel, and said licence was issued.
John S. Forsyth, County Judge
The next entry is the marriage certificate of the parties above named, as follows:
And now, on the 8th day of Sept., 1854, Samuel Osborn, A Justice of the Peace, made the following: Benton County, State of Iowa, I, Samuel Osburn, an acting Justice of the Peace in said county and State of Iowa aforesaid, I do hereby certify that I did join in marriage Lewis Furgeson, aged nineteen years, and Rachael Phidela Juel, aged seventeen years, both of the county aforesaid. The above marriage was solemnized Aug. 24, 1851, at the house of David Juel, in said county, Marysville.
Benton Co., Io. Signed Samuel Osborn, J. P.
The above was filed September 10, 1851. John S. Forsyth, County Judge
This is the first marriage recorded in existing county records. The records of previous marriages, if any were made, are not to be found. The second marriage license was issued by the County Court, January 16, 1852, authorizing the marriage of Duff C. Barres, known to the Judge to be over the age of 21 years, and Lorena Denison; Jacob Denison, the father of Lorena, giving his free consent. January 29, 1852, filed the following certificate for record, viz.:
State of Iowa, Benton County, ss: I hereby certify that Mr. Duff. C. Barrows, aged 35 years, and Lucinda J. Denison, aged 15 years, were duly joined in marriage at the house of Mr. Jabob Denison in Benton County, Iowa, on the 18th day of January, A. D. 1854, by me.
Charles D. Gray, legally authorized minister of the Methodist Protestant Church
Marriage license was issued to Bernard G. Speak and Mary A. Rouse, February 6, 1852 – married February 8, by Elijah Evans, Justice of the Peace; and to William Helms and Lucinda Wayman, February 10, 1852 – married by Samuel Osborn, Justice of the Peace, February 11, 1852; Westley Denison and Nancy Ferguson, January 5, 1852 – married by Samuel Osborn, January 18, 1852; Isaiah Cue and Mary Hannah Davis, February 19, 1852; Hiram T. Epperson and Harriet Roswell, February 28, 1852 – married March 3, 1852, by Rev. Charles N. Moberley; Franklin F. Bryson and Sarah Elizabeth Cox, March 22, 1852; Henry F. Brysen and Sarah E. Cox, married March 23, 1852, by James Rice, Justice of the Peace; Eli Cue and Margaret Malinda Spurgin, April 1, 1852 – married by W. R. Johnson, same day.
Judging from these entries, it would appear that the young people of Benton were following the customs of their fathers diligently as soon as the county Court was organized and it is to be inferred that there were numerous marriages prior to 1851.
The First Term
of the County Court was commenced at the Court House November 3, 1851. Present, John S. Forsyth, County Judge; G. W. Vardaman, Clerk; C. C. Charles, Sheriff. Adjourned by proclamation of Sheriff to the house of C. C. Charles and "proceeded to business."
The first entries were as follows:
W. C. Stanbury for W. W. Hamilton presented claim for balance as services for field notes of the county. Application was made for the appointment of a surveyor for said county, and W. C. Stanbury produced a bond to fill the appointment, which was not approved by the court. James Rice produced a claim as follows: State of Iowa vs. James Chambers and others in Justice Court charged with killing a hog that did not belong to them. The case was tried October 16, 1851, and failed for want of sufficient proof; and the court being satisfied that there was sufficient grounds for a process to issue in said case, it is therefore ordered by the court that James Rice be allowed $2 for services as Justice of the Peace in the above case, as per bill filed, to be known as Warrant No. 22, and further, that William Remington, the constable in the above case be allowed $2.25, as per bill filed to be known as Warrant No. 23. Be it remembered that it is ordered by the Court, that until otherwise ordered, the court will be held at the house of M. D. L. Webb.
John S. Forsyth, County Judge
The Lawyers Want Their Pay
It is a little difficult at this distance to clearly understand the following order. Why Mr. Preston was not paid by the County Commissioners who had charge of the county affairs for five years and more, and why he should be paid for services as Prosecuting Attorney before the county was organized, and for a term of nearly eighteen months before he was appointed Prosecuting Attorney by Judge Carleton at the first term of the District Court, are among the many mysteries of the early history of the county that must probably remain unsolved. It may be probable, however, that Mr. Preston may be been employed by the people of the county to procure the passage of the bill organizing the county. The order of Judge Forsyth is sufficient evidence that he understood it and that it was legitimate. The order is as follows:
Ordered, That I. M. Preston be allowed $100 for services rendered said county (Benton) as Prosecuting Attorney for said county from the 19th day of December A. D. 1845, to the 10th day of April A. D. 1848, as bill filed Nov. 28, 1851.
On the same day the following order was made by the County Court:
Ordered, That Norman Isbell be allowed $30 for services rendered said county of Prosecuting Attorney at special term of District Court, A. D. 1851, as per bill filed.
Henry O’Conner was allowed $25 for similar services at the September term, September 15, 1851.
Order No. 5 November 29, 1851
Ordered, That John Alexander be allowed $77.50, the amount allowed him by the Board of County Commissioners for services rendered as Prosecuting Attorney.
In December, 1861, orders were drawn for the payment of Judges and Clerks of Election in the several townships at $1 per day, as follows:
Polk. Three elections in 1851, viz.: April 7, April 26 and August 4.
Polk Township. William J. White, John S. Forsyth, Charles N. Moberley, James Downs, Alexander Johnson, Thomas J. Fergesen, William S. Griffin, Judges; John Parker, Clerk.
Harrison. Albert Johnson, Hiram Roswell, Abel Cox, William A. Bryson, Martin Johnson, John S. Vancleave, Judges; James Johnson, Elijah Evans, Jacob Remington, Clerks.
Canton Township. Judges, Loyal F. North, John "Sawver," Edward D. Johnson and David M. Stearn; Clerks, William R. Johnson and John Renfew.
Taylor Township. Judges, John Royal, William J. Sanders, George W. Vandaman, L. D. Bordwell and James F. Beckett; Clerks, George W. Vandaman, John E. Vandaman, David S. Brubaker and John I. Sanders.
The First Court House
January 7, 1852, Mr. D. L. Webb was allowed $1.50 for hauling lime for the Court House.
January 1, 1852:
Ordered, That C. C. Charles be allowed $10 for laying two floors in Court House, and furnishing nails.
January 28, 1852:
It is hereby Ordered by the Court, that the office of County Judge and the County Court be held in the house of W. C. Stanbury, until otherwise directed.
April 1, 1852:
Now it is Ordered by the Court, that the county offices beheld in the Court House in Fremont, until otherwise ordered.
From the above orders, it is evident that the Court House was not finished for occupation until about April, 1852. Indeed, Mr. Wood states it as his impression, that although the records indicate the term of Court, in 1851, to be held in the Court House at Fremont, they were really held elsewhere, as the house was not finished and could not be occupied.
First Quarterly Settlement
On settlement with the Clerk, Treasurer and Judge, up to January 1, 1852, the fees received by the Judge were $3.80; by the Clerk, $13.50; by the Treasurer, $35.20; making in all, $52.55 – equal to $17.51 each. The salary of each was $75.00, and after deducting the last mentioned amount, orders were drawn on the treasury for the balance, $57.49 each.
At the next quarterly settlement, April 5, 1852, the Judge had received in fees $3.50; the Clerk, $4.50; and the Treasurer $27.81; total, $35.81.
Townships in Tama County
In 1852, Tama County was attached to Benton, for election, judicial and revenue purposes. The following orders show the formation of two townships in that territory; but, singularly enough, no similar record was made when townships in Benton County were created:
Office of the County Judge, Fremont
June 4, A. D. 1852
It is hereby Ordered by the County Court in and for said county, that all that part of Tama County lying east of Range 16, be and the same is hereby created a civil township for election and the other purposes of law, and is known by the name of Howard Township, Tama County, Iowa; and the Court further appoints Regin A. Redman, John C. Vermelgea, Eli Chase, Trustees of said township, and that the first election in said township, to be holden by this order, shall be held at the house of Regin A. Redman, on the first Monday in August, A. D. 1852; and that the same be governed agreeable to the provisions of the law of the State of Iowa.
June 4, 1852 Judge S. Forsyth, County Judge
It is hereby Ordered by the Court that Townships 82, 83, 84, 85 and 86 north, in Range 16, in County of Tama County, which is now attached to Benton for election, judicial and revenue purposes, be, and the same is hereby, created into a civil township, to be known as Indian Village Township, Tama County, Iowa; and that William Taylor, Eli W. Daley and Sim. Applegate be, and the same persons are hereby, appointed Trustees of said township; and that the first election held under this order shall be holden at the house of Eli W. Daley, on the first Monday in August, A. D. 1852.
Judge S. Forsyth, County Judge
June 8, 1852, license was granted to Wm. H. Bristol to run a ferry across the Cedar River at Fremont for the term of ten years. The rates of toll were established by Judge Forsyth, as follows; Foot passenger, 5 cents; man and horse, 10 cents; one-horse vehicle and horse, 15 cents; wagon and two horses, 20 cents each; each additional horse, 5 cents; droves of horses, 5 cents each; cattle, 4 cents each; sheep, 3 cents; and hogs, 3 cents each. Teams of oxen or cattle to be rated as horses. The license was transferred by Bristol to Henry R. Sanders March 27, 1854. Sanders assigned to Elijah Ervin Nov. 10, 1854, and Ervin to James L. Pauley August 11, 1855.
Among other old matters presented to the County Judge for settlement in 1852, was a bill from one of the County Seat Commissioners for services in locating the county seat in May, 1846. Probably Mr. Secrest prudently waited until he thought his bill would be paid before presenting it, October 12, 1852, when the following order was passed:
Ordered, by the Court, that J. A. Secrest be allowed $22 for services as Locating Commissioner to locate the town of Vinton, in said county, in May, 1846, said warrant to be known as No. 212.
Judge S. Forsyth, County Judge
The Court House Finished
December 23, 1852, the court ordered the payment of $3.78 to James Johnson for cash paid for plastering the Court House. On the same day, the court ordered the payment of $20.31 for a stove for the Court House. December 30, J. S. Hunt and S. Alexander were paid $0.62 for a load of wood for Benton County. February 7, 1853, Elijah Evans was paid $0.61 for stove rent.
Court House Burned
During the Summer of 1852, it is said that the first story was occupied for a while as a store, the goods being put in by Mr. Greene, of Cedar Rapids, Russell Jones being salesman. In the Fall and Winter following, however, the room was used as a school room, in which George Parish taught school, probably the first in Fremont. Before the term closed, however, the building was burned under the following circumstances, as narrated by Dr. J. C. Traer, who was then District Clerk. When the house was finished, the workmen left a quantity of shavings under the building. One afternoon in January, after school, some one took up the ashes and coals in the stove, and then threw them out in the yard. That night the Treasurer, James Johnson, and Dr. Traer slept in the office in the second story. During the night, a strong wind arose, and, it is supposed, blew some of the coals under the house among the shavings, where a brisk fire was soon kindled. Dr. Traer awoke, and finding the room full of dense, suffocating smoke, clothed himself as quickly as possible, and ran down the outside stairway and discovered that it was impossible to save the building. He immediately returned, and with Johnson and one or two of the neighboring settlers whom they aroused, succeeded in saving all the county records and papers by throwing them out of the windows. Nothing was burned with the building except a gun that belonged to Simison, and Dr. Traer’s watch, which he forgot in the excitement of the hour, and some of the scholars’ books in the lower story.
Fremont was changed to Vinton by act of the General Assembly, approved January ____, 1853.
Proposition to Build a New Court House
Very soon after the destruction of the Court House, Judge Forsyth made preparations for the erection of a new one on the Court House Square, and ordered the following:
It is hereby given to the qualified voters of Benton County, Iowa, that there will be a proposition submitted to the people at the April election for A. D. 1853, for to decide whether the County Judge shall issue the bonds of the county, to the amount of $7,000, for the purpose of borrowing money to construct a Court House, and levying a tax at the rate of two mills upon the dollar of valuation of property for the first five years, and three m ills upon the county valuation for five years thereafter, or a sufficient length of time to pay the whole amount. Said proposition to take effect from and after the 1st of June, A. D. 1858.
Vinton, Benton Co., March 4, 1852
J. C. Traer, County Clerk,
By order of the County Judge
Abstract of votes given in Benton County, Iowa, at an election held in Benton County on the 4th day of April, A. D. 1853, to decide for or against issuing bonds to borrow money to build a Court House, which vote resulted as follows:
For bonds, 144; against bonds, 78. Carried in favor of bonds.
We, the undersigned, canvassers of the election held in Benton County on the 4th day of April, A. D. 1853, do certify the vote in favor of county bonds, 144; against county bonds, 78. Carried in favor of bonds.
John S. Forsyth, Co. Judge,
James Rice, J. P.
D. S. Brubaker, J. P.,
August 7, 1853, the following order was made:
Be it remembered, That on this 1st day of August, A. D. 1853, the County Judge, in accordance with the decision of the people of said county, by a vote taken on the first Monday of April in said year, the result of which said vote is now on record in said court aforesaid, issue or cause to be issued the bonds of Benton County, in said State, to the amount of $7,000, to wit: fifteen several bonds of the denominations of (400) four hundred and (500) five hundred dollars respectively, and made payable as follows, to wit: Nos. 1, 2 and 3 payable on the 1st day of August, A. D. 1858; and Nos. 4, 5 and 6 made payable on the 1st day of August, A. D. 1859, and Nos. 7, 8 and 9 payable on the 1st day of August, A. D. 1860; and Nos. 10, 11 and 12 on the 1st day of August, A. D. 1861; and Nos. 13, 14 and 15 payable on the 1st day of August, A. D. 1862; which said bonds are executed to draw interest at the rate of ten per cent, payable semi-annually on the 1st day of February and August.
Wm. R. Johnson was elected Treasurer and Recorder in 1853.
The bonds were negotiated by Dr. Traer, and sold at par to Green & Brother, of Cedar Rapids, August 1, 1853, who, on the same day, executed a bond with Weare, Finch & Co., of Cedar Rapids, and Russell Jones, of Vinton, in the sum of $14,000, conditioned as follows:
Whereas, The said Green & Brother have this day purchased and received of the County Judge of Benton County aforesaid, the bonds of said county for the sum of $7,000, with interest at 10 per cent, per annum, said bonds being issued in accordance with a vote in favor of said issue by the legal voters of said county to defray the expense of erecting a Court House for the use and benefit of said county, in consideration of which the said Green & Brother obligate themselves to pay to the order of the County Judge of Benton County aforesaid the sum of seven thousand dollars ($7,000), payable at the business house of Green & Jones, Vinton, Benton County, Iowa, and in such sums and as fast as may be required to defray the expense of erecting the Court House aforesaid; it being expressly understood and agreed that the County Judge shall not draw on the said Green & Brother for any part of said $7,000 faster than it may be required for the active construction of said Court House, and that he shall draw for no other purpose than to pay for said Court House until said building is completed, when he will be at liberty to draw for any balance that may be in the hands of said Green & Brother, and place in the hands of the County Treasurer. It being agreed that said Green & Brother are to have the use of the funds, as above stipulated, in consideration of their taking the bonds at par.
This bond was canceled February 3, 1857, by Judge Douglass, "it appearing that the conditions have been complied with."
The bonds issued were all copied in the Judge’s Minute Book.
November 7, 1853, E. E. Downing entered into a contract with the County Judge to build the Court House for $7000, and to have the same completed by the 1st day of July, 1855. Downing gave bonds in the sum of $14,000, with D. S. Brubacker, M. D. L. Webb, W. C. Stanberry and E. E. Evans as sureties for the faithful performance of his contract.
December 3, 1853, Judge Forsyth drew an order for $300, to pay E. E. Downing for the purpose of procuring materials for the erection of a Court House in Vinton.
January 25, 1854, Judge Forsyth paid Green & Brother $350, for interest in the county bonds.
July 27, 1854, warrant issued to E. E. Downing on Green & Brother for $300, to procure materials for Court House. August 12th, another for $8.06, for labor performed for the erection of Court House; and also another for $1.75. August 17th, $25.90; 21st, $40, for labor; same day, $6.92, for labor; same day, $4.15, $9.00, $4.62, $39, $6.16 and $10, for work on Court House.
Downing dug the trenches for the foundation, hauled some stone to the spot, and possibly commenced laying the foundation; but it was found that his calls for money were disproportionate to the amount of work performed, and the County Judge very properly refused to advance any more money until more work should be accomplished. The result was that the contractor quit work when he found that he couldn’t draw money faster than he earned it; and thus the matter rested until the election of Judge Douglass, the next year, the county authorities waiting for work to be done before it was paid for, and the contractor waiting for money to be paid before he performed the work.
Swamp Land Agent
March 9, 1853, it as deemed advisable to appoint a special agent to select swamp and overflowed lands in the county, under authority of the State law, Judge Forsyth appointed James Crow, Esq., as the Agent of the county for that purpose.
Another Tama Township
March 7, 1853:
Be it remembered, That on the 7th day of March, A. D. 1853, it was ordered by the County Court in and for said county, that all that part of Tama County lying and being in the following regularly surveyed Congressional township be and the same is hereby organized into a township for judicial purposes, by the name of Buckingham, to wit: Townships 85 and 86, Range 14, and Townships 85 and 86, Range 15. And the Court further appoints N. L. Osborne, John Connell and David Drew, Esqs., as Trustees for said township; and that the first election to be holden under this order shall be held on the first Monday in April, A. D. 1853, at the April election for said year, at the house of J. P. Wood, Esq., and that the same shall be governed by the provisions of the statute of the State of Iowa.
At the quarterly settlement of the Judge, Clerk and Treasurer, for the quarter ending December 31, 1853, the receipts for the quarter were: Clerk, $2.80; Treasurer, $70.60; Judge, $8.65; total $82.05.
At the September term of the District Court, September 13, 1853, James Wood, a subject of Queen Victoria, made application for naturalization – the first in the county. Mr. Wood came here in 1850, and established himself as a blacksmith – the first in Fremont. Soon after his naturalization, he was appointed Deputy Clerk of the Court, and relates the following incident to illustrate, he says, how much county officers knew at that time: "Mr. ________, over the river," says Mr. Wood, "owed me thirty-five cents for blacksmithing. He was elected Justice of the Peace, and came into court to be sworn. The Judge ordered the Clerk to administer the oath, whereupon I administered it as follows: ‘You, _____, do solemnly swear that you will perform the duties of Justice of the Peace to the best of your ability, you owe me thirty five cents, so help you God?’" Mr. Wood says he was not aware that he had done anything out of the regular course until the court, attorneys, jury and by-standers burst into a roar of laughter; and "I didn’t hear the last of that thirty-five cents for a long time." Mr. Wood was the first Mayor of Vinton, in 1869, and still resides here, highly esteemed and respected. He is well known throughout the State as the author of "Wood’s Manual for Justices of the Peace."
The First Newspaper
January 10, 1855, the first number of the Vinton Eagle, the first newspaper in Benton County, was issued by Frederick Lyman & Co., Stanley C. Foster being the "Co." It was edited by Mr. Lyman, and was Democratic in politics.
The order for the organization of Cue Township is dated January 1, 1855, and directs the election to be held at the house of Benjamin Darnell, to whom the writ is issued. The election was held on the first Monday in April succeeding. May 23, Judge Forsyth notified Mr. Darnell that Township 83, Range 9, was attached to the newly organized township of Cue for election purposes.
At the organizing election, A. T. Wilkins and Amos Brown were chosen Justices; W. Alspach and Henry Harrenden, Constables; D. B. Ramage, Clerk; James McQuinn, W. Alspach and James H. Fisk, Trustees; B. Darnell, Road Supervisor; A. T. Wilkins, Assessor.
The road fund received during the year was $89.13.
May 20, 1857, the Trustees of Cue and LeRoy Townships agreed that the county line road along the two townships should be apportioned, two miles to Cue and four miles to LeRoy.
October 4, 1858, Cue Township was divided into three Road Districts.
The name of the township was changed in 1862 to Florence.
A school house was built in District No. 1 in 1856 or 1857.
Vote of 1855
It will be interesting to refer to the vote of Benton County in August, 1855, as preserved in the first volume of the Vinton Eagle. It was a Democratic victory according to the Eagle:
County Judge Sheriff Rec. and Treas. Surveyor Coroner Townships S. Douglass M. P. Adams Scattering W. Remington W. T. Getty Scattering J. F. Filkins C. H. Johnson Scattering N. Colby A. B. Miller W. Whipple Scattering John Dine John Sells Scattering Cue 12 12 12 12 2 Iowa 16 4 20 20 9 11 1 5 8 LeRoy 8 9 6 5 4 8 2 8 2 3 Monroe 8 5 7 6 8 5 7 4 1 6 3 Cedar 25 13 25 12 25 12 3 13 20 23 Harrison 16 16 17 14 22 24 14 5 13 23 1 Polk 80 21 75 21 75 24 80 9 12 77 Benton 31 36 1 40 28 23 45 1 29 32 5 23 3 5 Canton 22 54 39 33 19 58 8 33 35 7 51 5 Taylor 134 112 144 86 4 159 87 72 88 64 109 10 Total 336 282 1 385 205 4 367 263 1 224 192 175 1 293 54 32
According to the table, there were 619 votes cast for County Judge at that election, which shows a rapid increase.
At quarterly settlement, January 1, 1855, the Treasurer had received, during the quarter, $135.20; the Clerk, $60.40, and the Judge, $7.65; total $203.25.
The last official act of Judge Forsyth was to appoint James C. Traer agent to sell intoxicating liquors in Vinton, and James A. Guthrie in Marysville, under the act of the General Assembly approved January 22, 1855.
The Western State Company
commenced running a daily line of four-horse coaches between Iowa City and Vinton about the 10th of January, 1856. This was considered as a grand step in the progress of this county at that time, and the Eagle began to agitate the question of a daily mail.
February 8, 1856, a railroad meeting was held in Vinton for the purpose of considering a communication from Delhi in relation to a railroad from Dubuque via Delhi, Delaware and Quasqueton to Vinton and westward. M. D. L. Webb was Chairman and J. C. Traer Secretary. John Shane, N. Bass and J. C. Traer were appointed to correspond with citizens of Dubuque and Delhi, and John Alexander, James Crow, Edwin Humphreyville, Russell Jones and John Filford were appointed to take a subscription for paying expenses of preliminary surveys or other matters necessary to secure the location of the road to Vinton.
At another meeting, held at Vinton in May, 1856, it was agreed to send J. C. Traer, John Coval and P. B. Culver to Dubuque to ascertain the prospect of securing an extension of the Dubuque & Southwestern Road through Benton County. The Financial Committee was also instructed to raise funds for their expenses. The committee visited Dubuque as instructed, and received an offer from the company to build the road, provided the county would take $250,000 of stock in the company or loan its credit to that amount. Another meeting was held on the 24th, when it was resolved to petition Judge Douglass, asking him to submit to popular vote the question of empowering him to issue county bonds to the amount of $250,000, to be used as a loan of credit in behalf of the road. The petition was duly circulated, and, in June, the Judge made the order submitting the question to the people, and appointing July 19 as the date. The proposition was withdrawn before the date of election by the friends of the measure.
Change of County Lines Agitated
A meeting was held at Marengo, in Iowa County, March 21, 1856, for the purpose of securing a change in the boundaries of Benton, Iowa and Keokuk Counties. The project was to take the southern tier of townships from Benton and the northern tier from Keokuk, attach them to Iowa County, and then divide the latter into two new counties. The meeting resolved that those attending would stand united for this scheme, and that they would support no one for the Legislature who would not express himself unconditionally in favor of it. This scheme, like many others originating about that time, fell through, and the county lines remained unchanged.
The Presidential vote in Benton County in 1856 was as follows: Fremont, 568; Buchanan, 426, Fillmore, 133.
The Court House
Soon after Judge Douglass assumed the control of county affairs, he became satisfied that Downing’s contract to erect a Court House, made in 1853, was worthless, and that it was useless to expect a Court House under it. He therefore settled with Downey and annulled the contract. The records to not contain any entries in relation to the matter, but on the 5th of September, 1855, the County Judge published the following notice in the Vinton Eagle:
Benton County Court House
To Stone Masons: Sealed proposals will be received at my office in Vinton, until the 15th day of September, 1855, for building the foundation of the Court House. The work is to be completed by the 1st day of December next. For terms, specifications, the manner of doing the work, etc., apply to the undersigned. A moderate portion will be advanced as the work progresses, and undoubted security will be required from the person to whom the work is granted.
Vinton, September 5, 1855 Sam Douglass, County Judge
The contract appears to have been awarded to John Tyler, for on the 21st of November following, The Eagle records the completion of the job by that gentleman. The next Spring, active work was commenced on the building. It is understood that no contracts were let, but judge Douglass employed workmen by the day, and personally superintended the work. The cornerstone was laid July 13, 1856, by the Masonic fraternity. Addresses were made by Messrs. Evans and Root, and a brass band from Marion furnished music for the important occasion.
The lower or first floor was finished in 1856, and the upper story so far completed that on Christmas Eve it was occupied for a grand ball and supper, given by the citizens of Vinton and vicinity. On the memorable occasion, the bill of fare included oyster soup, ornamented cold dishes, boiled dishes, hot reliefs, cold side dishes, hot side dishes, small dishes, cold relishes, buffalo and elk meat, wild turkey, prairie chicken, quail, pastry, confectionery and dessert. The Court House was used as the dancing hall, and numerous dancers attended from Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Picaway and Benton City.
The Court House is a substantial two-story brick structure, some 40x60 feet square, and situated in the Public Square near the business portion of the town. The grounds are handsomely laid out, studded with shrubs, evergreens, and the different varieties of ornamental trees, forming a very attractive place of resort during the heat of Summer. The second story is devoted to court and jury rooms, which are conveniently arranged and airy, while the first story is occupied by the different county officers, fire-proof vaults for the records, etc.
Its cost was about $13,000.
William Martin, a young man about 23 years of age, was drowned in the Cedar River, about two miles below Vinton, on Friday, June 29, 1855, while bathing. Several others were with him at the time, but he was too far out, was taken with cramps and sank before they could reach him.
The first settler in this township (Town 82, Range 11) was Asa P. Pasco, in 1851, followed by S. H. Lee, in 1852, James Athey, in 1853, and I. G. Burnet, in 1854.
The first marriage was that of Luther Skellinger to Romento Pasco, in 1854.
The first birth was that of Pomeroy Davidson, September 8, 1854; and the first death, that of Maguire Davidson, on the 25th of December in the same year.
The township was organized in 1856, S. H. Lee being elected Justice of the Peace, and Brittain O. Clark, Township Clerk. Those who voted at this election were: James Brien, S. A Bentley, Isaiah Morris, S. H. Lee, Levy Bunden, Jerry Morfit, Asa P. Pasco, Thomas Miner, I. G. Burnet, S. S. Benttie, Brittain O. Clark, James Rineurd and Samuel Rineurd.
The first school house was built on Section 23, in 1857, and the first teacher was Eunice Ralsted, who taught in the Summer of Fall of that year.
The first mill was built on Prairie Creek, by W. Young and George Bosley, within the present limits of Blairstown.
The first sermon was preached at Lee’s Grove, by Rev. A. Dwight, in 1857.
The Chicago & Northwestern Road was built through the township in 1861.
There are now ten school houses in the township.
The present officers are: I. G. Burnet, P. H. Lynch, J. M. Furnence, Justices; W. M. Abbott, A. Sherin, Constables; George Felt, R. Furnence, Geo. Shoemaker, Trustees; W. H. Ehred, Clerk; H. D. Moeller, Assessor.
Hospitality to a Preacher
About nightfall, in the Autumn of 1856, a wayfaring man, on horseback, stopped before the door of a well-known pioneer of Kane Township, and craved hospitality. This was accorded, as a matter of course; but when the stranger asked his host to care for his horse, and gave minute directions as to feed, water and bedding, Mr. Stocker felt a little cross, owing, probably, to his having just ended a hard day’s work. He cared for the horse as if it was his own, however, and returned to the house.
The stranger introduced himself as a minister, and took occasion during the evening to do all the missionary work he could. 9 o’clock came, and Mr. Stocker suggested that he would be glad to usher his reverend guest to bed. The stranger mildly proposed that it was his custom to preside at family prayers wherever he stayed. Mr. Stocker produced the family Bible, which, it is safe to say, he was not much in the habit of reading, and his wife’s mother laid an Episcopal prayer book by its side. The latter was pushed aside by the stranger, with a contemptuous gesture, who read a chapter, offered prayer and retired.
In the morning, the stranger manifested the same consideration for his horse, but did not offer to assist. As soon as breakfast was over, Mr. Stocker began to bustle about, preparatory to going to the field, when he was stopped by the preacher, who suggested the propriety of another prayer. This over, the stranger asked to have his horse brought round. As he was about to mount, he inquired if there would be anything to pay. Mr. Stocker thought this too good an opportunity to lose, and suggested the sum of seventy-five cents as a satisfactory remuneration. The preacher’s eyes involuntarily assumed a dreamy, contemplative cast, but he drew his wallet, like a man, He examined its contents, and after extracting all he could find, exposed the total on his open palm, which amounted to sixty-give cents, saying that was all he had, and asking if Mr. Stocker would be satisfied with that sum. The latter nodded a cheerful acquiescence, dropped the coins into his pocket, holding himself in as best he could until the preacher was out of hearing, when he relieved his feelings by the best laugh he had had for years.
April 8, 1856, a ferry license was granted to James L. Parsley to run a ferry across the Cedar River, at Vinton.
Although the orders of court creating townships in Benton County were not recorded, the following order indicates that the townships named were created and organized in the Spring of 1856:
April 9, 1856
It is this day ordered by the court that the following persons be allowed the sums attached to their names, for services rendered in organizing townships, to wit:
Thomas Ridge, Jackson Township $4.00
J. M. Inman, Eden Township 4.00
George Buchan, Bruce Township 4.00
V. Vanice, Big Grove Township 4.00
Big Grove Township
This township (Town 84, Range 11) was organized in 1856, by order of the County Court. The first Township Trustees were: E. Doan, John Ruffcorn and George Bergen; and James Shultz and H. S. Bailey were first Justices of the Peace.
The first settlers were: James F. Young, his brother, Robert Young, and _______ Connolly, who settled in 1849; although previous to that time, a log cabin had been built by ______ Adams and others, squatters, and used as a sort of rendezvous or station by the horse-thieving gentry.
In 1850, Elias Doan, Dennis Kennedy and John P. Chinn settled in the township. Mr. Kennedy settled on the east part of Section 4. At that time, there were thirty or forty Indians in that vicinity. These Indians were accused of committing some depredations on the settlers; but Mr. Kennedy thinks they were actually committed "by some white scalawags, who wanted to shield themselves by laying it off on to the Indians."
In 1854, the settlers moved the old log cabin of Adams’, which was built on Section 10, to another part of the section, and fitted it up for a school house, in which Miss Margaret Connolly (now Mrs. Jonas Wood, of Traer), taught the first school, in the same Summer.
The first sermon was preached in the house of Mr. J. F. Young, by Rev. Williston Jones, a Presbyterian clergyman, in 1850. He was followed, soon after, by Rev. N. C. Robinson.
April 21, 1856, David Robb resigned the office of Clerk of the District Court, and Judge Samuel Douglass appointed W. C. Stanbury to fill the vacancy.
May 1, 1856, Newell Colby resigned the office of County surveyor, and Wesley Whipple was appointed to fill the vacancy.
January 5, 1857, a license was granted to the Vinton Bridge Company, J. C. Traer, President, to erect a toll bridge across the Cedar River, at the north end of Main street.
The company was organized in November, 1856, composed of J. C. Traer, J. E. Palmer, J. W. Filkins, John Mason, J. S. Hunt and others. The bridge was built by Kelley & McCoy, and cost $8,500. Its entire length was 462 feet, and the superstructure rested on eight piers, each composed of sixteen piles driven twelve feet into the bed of the river. These piers were protected by slowly constructed "breakers." The transverse floor timbers were twenty feet long, giving a clear passage-way of sixteen feet.
The first team crossed this bridge June 27, 1857; and it was continued as a toll bridge until 1862, when it was sold to the county.
In 1865, one span of the bridge was swept away by high water, and soon after, it was taken down and the material removed. It is said that at low water some vestiges of this first bridge can be seen.
A Novel Marriage License and Certificate
Judge Douglass was not a lawyer, but took much pride in keeping his record. His first official act was, like that of his predecessor, the issuing of a marriage license. He was married, November 25, 1855, at New Philadelphia, Ohio, to Mrs. N. Straun; and, when, a year later, another county official desired to enter the state of matrimony, the Judge made the following entry:
Be it Remembered, That on the 18th day of December, 1856, a license was issued to John W. Filkins, County Recorder and treasurer, and Margaret M. Cupid, authorizing the marriage of the same to be solemnized this evening by Samuel Douglass, County Judge of said county.
And now, to wit: On this same evening, at the house of John Bishop, Esq., at precisely 7 o’clock P. M., appeared the said John W. Filkins, in his own proper person, and also the said Margaret M. Cupid, parties in said cause, whereupon the court proceeded to try said cause, and the court being fully satisfied that issue should be joined, and that they were both of lawful age and in all other respects, legally as well as morally and physically, qualified to enter upon the rights and privileges of the married state, it is therefore ordered, adjudged and decreed that the said J. W. Filkins, Recorder and Treasurer of Benton County, and Margaret M. Cupid be held and firmly bound in the holy bonds of matrimony, and that this decree be final, firm and forever; and it is further ordered and adjudged that the said J. W. Filkins pay the cost tax of $6.35.
Cedar Valley Branch Railroad
March 2, A. D. 1857, the County Court ordered that the question of aiding the construction of the Cedar Valley Branch of the Chicago, Iowa & Nebraska Railroad, by subscribing for $150,000 of the stock of said company, and issuing therefore the bonds of the county, payable in twenty years, being 10 per cent interest, in payment of the same, be submitted to the qualified voters of the county, at an election to be held on the 6th of April, 1857.
The election resulted in favor of the proposition, by a vote of 698 to 467. Although the measure was carried by what was then considered a very large majority, it was asserted by those who were opposed to saddling such an enormous debt upon the county that misrepresentations had been made, and that many citizens voted for it under a misapprehension of facts. Before the bonds could be prepared, Mr. A. D. Stephens, who was sagacious enough to foresee the magnitude of the self-imposed burden and how much it would cost the people, filed a petition in the District Court at Iowa City for a writ of injunction to restrain the county authorities from issuing the bonds. He was successful, and thus saved the county from a debt which, but for his energy and foresight, would have been a serious drawback to the prosperity of the county. Fifteen thousand dollars interest, paid annually for twenty years, would have amounted to $300,000 in 1877, and then the principal, 4150,000, would have been due. If any citizen of Benton County has a curiosity to see the amount of the burden which the people laid upon themselves in 1857, and from which they were relieved by the action of Mr. Stephens, let him calculate the amount of the interest to be paid, compounded at ten per cent, and he will be surprised. The county owes a debt to Mr. Stephens that has not been repaid, as he paid the expenses of securing the injunction from his own private funds.
A license was granted to James L. Pauley to run a ferry across Cedar River at Vinton, to be in force from April 1, 1859, for ten years; said ferry to run from the north end of Washington street.
Incorporated – Almost
Now, to wit, March 2, 1857: It being the March term of said County Court, and the first Monday of said month, the following petition was presented to the County Court, to wit:
To the County Court of Benton County, in the State of Iowa: Your petitioners, residents of Vinton, Grand Gulf, Tilford’s Vinton; Smith, Traer & Tilford’s Addition to the town of Vinton; East Vinton; Beckett’s Addition to Fremont; Webb’s Addition to the town of Vinton; Thomas S. Palmer’s Addition to the town of Vinton; John E. Palmer’s Addition to the town of Vinton; South Vinton; Sells’ Addition to the town of Vinton; College Square; Hamilton Place; Martel’s Addition to the town of Vinton, and New Vinton, in said county, would respectfully represent to your Honor that said villages lie adjacent to each other and in compact form, that neither of them has any municipal organization, and that it would be of great advantage to and for the interest of all concerned that they should be united and organized into a municipal incorporation, together with such lands adjacent as, by the consent of the proprietors thereof and the citizens of said villages, may be included; that, combined, they contain a population of more than one thousand permanent inhabitants. Therefore your petitioners respectfully ask your Honor to direct the question to be submitted to the legal voters of said villages whether they will have a city corporation or not.
And the Court being fully satisfied that the villages in said petition mentioned contain a population of one thousand permanent inhabitants, and that said petition is signed by at least one-fourth of the legal voters of said villages, do order the prayer of said petitioners granted; and it is further ordered by the Court that the question be submitted to a vote of the qualified electors of said villages on the 14th day of March, 1857, between the hours of 9 o’clock A. M. and 4 o’clock P. M., whether the said villages will adopt a city incorporation, as prayed for in said petition, or not; and it is further ordered that those in favor of said incorporation shall write or print on their ballots "For Incorporation," and those opposed to said incorporation shall write or print on their ballots "Against Incorporation." It is further ordered by the Court that W. C. Smith, Elijah Evans and Harmon Stanton be and are hereby appointed Judges of said election, and that S. E. Keith and John F. Pyne be and are hereby appointed Clerks of said election, who shall severally take the oath of office, and make returns according to law, of said election; and that said election shall be held in the store room lately occupied by Elijah Evans, in the village of Vinton, in said county of Benton, and that nine days’ notice of said election be posted up in three of the most public places in said village.
Samuel Douglass, County Judge
An order of the court, dated March 25, 1857, shows "that a majority of all votes cast at said election were in favor or said incorporation," abut does not give the vote. (It was 72.) the court ordered another election, to be conducted by the same officers and held at the same place, to choose three persons to draft articles of incorporation.
There is no further mention of this matter in the records. Mr. Pyne states, however, that the "ridiculousness of the scheme forced itself upon the people, after the first election, so strongly that it was abandoned, and the second election went by default."
April 5, 1857. Jesse Brody desired to cross the river to Vinton, with his wife and child. The wind was blowing so violently that J. L. Pauley, the ferryman, decided to carry them over in a skiff instead of in the large boat. About midway, the skiff capsized. Pauley caught the child and placed it on the inverted boat. Mrs. Brody sank, but the men clung to the boat and were drawn to shore by a line sent out for the purpose. When the boat was turned over, Mrs. Brody was found beneath it. Every effort was made to restore her, but without avail.
Steamboat on the Cedar
In June, 1858, the Valley Times, published at Cedar Rapids, announced that a steamboat was being built at that place, by F. Smith & Co., to ply the Upper Cedar. The boat was to be one hundred feet long, nineteen feet beam and two and a half feet hold. The engine was sixty horse-power, three-feet stroke and nine-inch cylinders; the boiler twelve feet long, containing twenty-four flues; the wheel, twelve feet in diameter. It was to be completed by the middle of July. During the time of building the boat, a notice was served on the Vinton Bridge Company, requiring that corporation either to construct a suitable draw or to abate the bridge.
The boat, which was named the "Export," reached Vinton October 5, with sixty tons of freight on board, part of which was discharged on the bank. Her arrival was welcomed by an anvil salute. At one of the discharges, a ring, which had been placed between the anvil, flew out, struck A. K. Webb and inflicted serious injury.
The second trip up stream was made on the 20th. The first trip had been a somewhat tedious one, as the pilot had to learn the channel.
During the Winter, the boat was overhauled and re-painted, and her name changed to "Black Hawk." Her first trip in 1859 began from Cedar Rapids March 16, with J. J. Snouffer, Master and Clerk; W. D. Watrous, Mate; Thomas Stanley, Engineer; W. Vance, Pilot. There being several cargoes awaiting shipment from Vinton, the boat did not visit Waterloo until the accumulation had been removed.
Another County Official Made Happy
Be it remembered, that on this first day of June, A. D. 1859, James Chapin, Clerk of the District Court, made application for a marriage license to permit him to unite in the holy bonds of matrimony with Mary D. Butler, of the County and State aforesaid, and the Court, having taken into consideration said application, and being fully convinced that the said James is perfectly justified in possessing the object long desired by him, it is therefore adjudged that said license be duly granted.
Sam. Douglass, County Judge
The County Judge System Abolished
By act of the General Assembly, approved March 26, 1860, the County Judge system, under what was termed the "Blue Laws of Iowa," which had been tried for ten years, was abolished. It was a singular experiment to be tried by a free people. Almost absolute power was vested in a single man to rule the affairs of the county. The County Judge was elected for four years; and while it was safe, perhaps, to entrust the management of the affairs of a county to a single man, if he was capable and honest, it was disastrous if the people were disappointed in their selection. Benton County was peculiarly fortunate in this respect, however. From one extreme, however, the General Assembly went to the opposite, and created, by the above-named act, a cumbrous and expensive County Legislature, called a County Board of Supervisors, consisting of one Supervisor for each civil township, to be elected in October, and to assume the duties of their office on the first Monday in January following. The act went into force July 4, 1860, and in October following, the several townships in Benton County elected a
Board of Supervisors
as follows: James McQuin, Cue Township; James Rice, Benton; J. M. Inman, Eden; G. L. Palmer, Big Grove; H. Guinn, Iowa; S. G. Livermore, Fremont; S. Miskimin, Monroe; G. Treanor, Bruce; S. Lamosee, LeRoy; E. W. Stocker, Kane; W. F. Kirkpatrick, Taylor; Martin Mickey, Union; R. R. Dwigans, Canton; John Slattery, Polk; J. Austin, Cedar; J. R. Christie, Jackson; J. S. Forsyth, Harrison; D. A. Robinson, Eldorado; W. C. Smith, Homer; J. Springer, St. Clair.
On the 7th of January, 1861, these gentlemen assembled at the Court House and duly organized by the election of James McQuin, Chairman, and the county entered upon another epoch in its history.
After determining the term of office of each member (as ten of them were to hold two years and the other ten only one), the first action of the Board was to "vote that the Chair appoint a committee to see to the immediate removal of the snow from the roof of the Court House," and W. C. Smith was appointed to perform that duty.
January 10, the following entry appears:
"And now a communication is presented to the Chair and red, being an invitation to the Hon. Board to partake of an oyster supper at Mrs. Loree’s saloon at 8 o’clock this evening.
Whereupon it was unanimously voted to accept, and that without debate. The record is silent in regard to the name or names of the generous individual or individuals who extended the invitation; but, of course, there were no axes to grind.
The vote of Benton County for Governor in 1861 was as follows: S. J. Kirkwood had 641; W. H. Merritt had 514; B. M. Samuels had 88.
During the year 1860, seventy-four marriage licenses were issued by the County Judge; seventy-one were issued in 1861.
School Fund Investigation
The office of School Fund Commissioner terminated in 1858. The citizens of the county were much dissatisfied with the manner in which the school funds had been managed, but many of them felt that a portion of the blame rested with themselves in not exercising sufficient acre in the selection of proper officers.
In 1857, Gov. Grimes was instructed by the General Assembly to appoint agents in the several counties to investigate the condition of the fund, and report their doings. Dr. J. C. Traer was appointed in Benton County, but the labor of the investigation was performed by William Stoughton and approved by the agent. The report was not printed in either the Eagle or the Democrat, then published here, not were the people in any way informed of the condition of the fund intrusted to their charge. In 1858-9, when Judge Douglass was about making an effort to settle with the Commissioner, he applied to the State Auditor for a copy of Traer’s report, and was informed that then it was not to be found in the Auditor’s office. When Judge Treanor made inquiry again for the document at Des Moines in 1860, and was told that it had never come to light. The reports of other county agents were there, and the fact that Benton was missing, is pretty conclusive evidence that it was abstracted from the archives by some party or parties interested in suppressing something it contained.
In October, 1859, when the County Judge and the County Treasurer, Mr. Filkins, endeavored to settle with the Commissioner, as required by law, it was discovered that his bond, given after his re-election, was missing. His first bond was on file, but the sureties were worthless. It was said that the County Judge, Douglass, had directed the Clerk of the Court, W. C. Stanberry, to require additional securities to the second bond, and that it was given to the Commissioner to have it made sufficient, but it was never returned. There was no evidence to indicate the names of the sureties who had signed the bond. The Commissioner was permitted to do business without filing any bond, and to handle and control over $40,000 of the public money with no guarantee other than his oath that the trust would be faithfully maintained. This indicates a flagrant dereliction of duty on the part of some officials.
After some weeks of wrangling, the books were balanced after a fashion; but nobody was satisfied. The Commissioner declared that his papers showed credits which were not allowed. On the other hand, the Judge and Treasurer doubted the correctness of justice of the settlement, on the ground that the Commissioner refused to produce a certain memorandum book said to contain a full statement of the interest accrued and paid, which the Commissioner insisted was private property which he had kept for his own private use. In the settlement, the difficulty had been to arrive at the amount of interest that had been paid to the Commissioner.
During the year 1860, ex-Commissioner Hunt, it is said, repeatedly avowed his intentions to commence suit against the county for about $1,500, which he claimed was due to him, but had been denied on the settlement; but at last concluded to await an investigation by the Board of Supervisors.
Accordingly, soon after that first Board was organized, on the 11th day of January, 1861, the following resolution was adopted:
Resolved, That the Committee on School Fund, etc., be empowered to investigate the present condition of the school fund of this county and report to the next regular meeting of the Bard, and that said Committee be further empowered to employ a commissioner to assist in such investigation, and that they be clothed with power to send for persons and papers, compel testimony, and exercise all powers that this Board might, of right, exercise in such investigations.
The Committee, composed of Jacob Springer, George Treanor and Jacob Christie, employed Thomas Drummond as Commissioner, and entered upon the task of bringing order out of the chaos into which the School Fund Commissioner’s affairs had been plunged. Mr. Drummond at once entered upon the work assigned him, which was to map the lands sold, make a complete list of the notes and mortgages. He had but partially completed his work when he left for Washington and entered the military service of the United States, and was succeeded by Wesley Whipple and W. C. Gaston.
The report was nearly completed on Saturday before the Board assembled at its June session, and the papers were left on the table in the Clerk’s office. During that night, however, some parties raised a window, entered the room and stole the Commissioner’s minute book and the papers of the Committee, except one sheet on which the final summary had been made in pencil, and which the thief or thieves overlooked. About midnight, Mr. S. Williams, living near town, saw a bright light near the bank of the river, and, upon investigation the next morning, found evidence of fire, and near by bits of scorched paper, which proved to be portions of the paper abstracted from the Clerk’s office, carelessly left to tell the story of the fate of the Committee’s work and the valuable papers. It is not thought that the minute book was destroyed, as it is said the ex-Commissioner afterward offered to produce it if the county would pay him $500; but his disinterested proposition was not accepted. The perpetrators of this outrage were never brought to justice; but it is said that certain parties, who shall be nameless here, were and still are strongly suspected of connection with it.
From the paper unintentionally left by the burglars, however, and from memory, the Committee and its Commissioner were able to make a report, which was made to the Board June 5, 1861, very much to the discomfiture of a certain gentleman, who had declared that "the report should never be made." The report was accepted and the following resolution adopted:
Resolved, That the Committee on School Lands and School Funds be and they are hereby empowered to have their report on the present condition of the school fund, and exhibits therewith, transmitted accurately copied and deposited in the Treasurer’s safe, in order that their labors may not be lost by another theft or casualty of any kind.
A search for the document in 1878 failed to discover its presence in the "Treasurer’s safe," but from the Vinton Eagle of July 4, from which a portion of this chapter is compiled, the following summary of the report is copied:
John Royal received from land sales, in cash $ 156.45
From notes 184.88
Total $ 341.33
E. H. Keyes received from land sales, in cash 289.19
From notes 307.59
Total $ 596.78
Irwin D. Simison received from land sales, in cash 7,210.79
From notes 8,401.52
J. S. Hunt received from land sales, in cash 15,840.43
From notes 8,013.50
Total cash and notes 40,404.35
Amount of five per cent, fund 2,598.70
Total school fund in Benton County $43,003.05
"The investigation shows," remarks the Eagle, "That John Royal was a defaulter in the sum of $75; E. H. Keyes, $25.70; Irwin D. Simison, $, 969.72, and Jacob S. Hunt, $40.64. The Committee and its Commissioners did not have time to investigate the interest account (even if they had had all the books and papers), which we understand was deemed a part of their duty by the Supervisors," and the destruction of the interest book, the book of certificates of final payment, and the retention of the memorandum or minute book previously mentioned, rendered further investigation impossible. After some years, a final settlement with the State authorities was effected on the basis of the Committee’s report.
Thursday July 4, 1861, was celebrated by the people of Benton County at Vinton, and the occasion was one of memorable incidents of county history that may not be overlooked. The great rebellion had just raised the rattlesnake flag. The first installment of Benton County volunteers were preparing to leave for the seat of war. The patriotic heart of Benton County was all ablaze with patriotism and determination to maintain the honor of the Stars and Stripes at all hazards. An immense concourse gathered from all directions. Men, women and children came in carriages, carts, on horseback and on foot. Never before had Vinton seen such a crowd. Every township in the county was represented, and the town was literally packed with human beings, horses and carriages.
The officers of the day were as follows: President, S. P. Vanatta, Esq.; Vice Presidents, H. D. Gay, S. H. Watson, R. Gilchrist, Vinton; James Rea, Benton; H. S. Bailey, Big Grove; W. C. Smith, Homer; David Robb, Canton; Geo. McCoy, Harrison; Isaac N. Chenoweth, Eden; J. C. Kinsell, Polk; George Fawcett, Fremont; G. W. Durand, Cedar; S. Miskimin, Monroe; William Helm, Jackson; Chief Marshal, A. H. Sebern; Assistant Marshals, W. C. Gaston, J. H. Shields; Chaplain, Rev. A. Chapin.
The procession, which extended about a mile, was formed in front of the Public Square and marched to the grove, where the exercises of the day commenced with singing by the choir and prayer by the Chaplain, followed by an address by the President of the day, and reading of the Declaration of Independence by Buren R. Sherman, Esq. A feature of the occasion was the administration of the oath of allegiance to the assembled multitude by James Chapin, Esq., each person repeating his or her own name and repeating after him the oath, which was as follows:
I, ____________, do solemnly swear in the presence of Almighty God, that I will true faith and loyalty bear to the Government of the United States and the Constitution thereof.
The day and time rendered this ceremony peculiarly solemn and impressive. Rebels were in arms to destroy the nation, the birthday of which they were met to celebrate; two companies of volunteers, the "Benton County Volunteers," Capt. J. S. Hunt, an the "Harrison Rangers," Capt. Geddes, were present in uniform, soon to march to the defense of the Union; and as the united voices of the assembled multitude repeated the solemn oath, every heart was thrilled with patriotic pride and devotion.
After the picnic dinner, an able and eloquent patriotic oration was delivered by Hon. T. W. Jackson, of Toledo. After reviewing the terrible situation and the efforts of rebel hands to destroy the government, the orator uttered the following prophetic words:
But his Union will live. The old Ship of State will outride the billows. God’s hand is at the helm; his breath is in the storm. When I survey my county to-day, I confess I would despair did I not know that we are under the guidance of Him who doeth all things well. Behind the dark clouds now hovering so ominously over us, I can detect the smiling face of Him who has ever been the director of nations and of men. The signs of the times are redolent with promise. Feel the beating pulse of the nation of freemen to-day; hear the nineteen million throbbing hearts beating in unison "to the music of the Union." See with what alacrity three hundred thousand men have flown to arms; view the chafing eagerness of a million more to rally at their country’s call. Pre-eminently honored stands to-day every soldier in the grand army of the Union. I envy their happy lot. Future generations will call them blessed. Those who come after us, pointing to their posterity, will say, "Behold, their grandsires fought in the battles of the Union." Their’s is a higher title than patents of nobility. History will write them down the defenders of this God-given Union. I would rather wear that badge than all the stars which shine upon the nobles of the earth. But as that boon hath been denied to you and to me, let us give the heroes our means and prayers.
At the close of the oration, toasts were read by the President, among which were the following:
The Twenty Million Freemen of the North – With one accord they rush to the defense of our Constitution and the maintenance of our laws. With such citizen soldiers, the cause of liberty and justice is ever secure.
Eloquent response by J. H. Shulls, Esq.
Our Flag – Foremost ensign in the vanguard of the great army of Human Progress, beneath whose glittering stars and flaunting stripes are gathered the embattled hosts of Law, Order and Constitutional Government on this continent, and to which are hopefully directed the straining eyes of the oppressed nationalities of Europe.
Response by W. C. Gaston, Esq.
The Press – The strongest bulwark of American liberty.
Response by Frederick Lyman.
The Ladies – Without their assistance the world stands still.
Response by James Chapin, Esq., as follows:
Woman! the finishing work of creation,
Exerts a wide influence over the nation;
In fact, such a mission she’s made to fulfill,
‘Tis said that without her the world would stand still!
But should such a calamity ever befall,
Instead of a still world, we’d have none at all,
And the dried-up old specimens of human depravity,
Like Egyptian mummies, would fill up the cavity.
In all ages, if history gives faithful relations,
Woman has more or less governed the nations;
And disloyal mothers are more to be feared
Than all the proud Xerxes that ever appeared;
For those who in childhood are under her drill,
In manhood will cherish her sentiments still.
But if she is loyal, her sons will prove true –
"Gainst the ranks of rebellion will fight their way through.
And likewise the daughters – God bless them to day!
Of our beautiful "Home Guards," I’ve something to say,
Who carry such weapons as arrows and lances,
And never miss fire when they shoot with their glances.
When the soldiers at night on their arms have reclined,
And dream of their homes and the girls left behind,
These chivalric daughters, in all their bright charms,
At home dream of union, and sleep on their arms.
Among the incidents of the day was the appearance of the venerable James Dowd, of Shellsburg, upward of 80 years old, dressed in the military costume of the American Revolution.
The exercises of the day were closed by a grand ball at the Fremont House, attended by fifty or sixty couples.
Swamp Lands Donated to the Cedar Valley Railroad
April 25, 1861, a special meeting of the Board was held to consider the question of transferring the swamp and overflowed lands to the Cedar Valley Railroad, to aid in the construction of said road through Benton County. The matter was presented to the Board in the form of a contract as between the county and Railroad Company, and an election of the voters of the county on the question was ordered to be held on the 28th day of May, 1861. The election resulted in 773 votes for said proposition and contract, and 209 against the contract.
The great civil war commenced in April, 1861. The action of the Board of Supervisors, together with other historical matter connected with the war, will be found under the caption of "War Record," in another part of this work.
January 8, 1862, Peter B. Smith was elected by the Board to fill a vacancy in the office of County Surveyor, caused by Wesley Whipple going to the army.
January 3, 1862:
A petition was presented by Hon. Jas. McQuin for a change in the name of Cue Township, praying that said township be called by the name of Florence. And it appearing that a majority of the citizens of said township have signed said petition, it is therefore ordered that the necessary steps be taken to perfect the change prayed for, and that the Clerk make out the notices in compliance with the law in such cases made and provided.
September 1, 1862, upon the final hearing of the petition of the citizens of Cue Township, it was voted by the Board that the prayer of said petition be granted, and that thereafter it should be known by the name of Florence Township.
October 21, 1862:
The Committee to whom was referred the matter of the petition of William Wallace for a change in the line dividing Taylor and Harrison Townships, report in favor of the change as prayed for, to wit: Commencing at the northeast corner of Section 11, Town 85, Range 11; thence south 80 rods; thence west one mile; thence north 80 rods to the line as it now runs; also, commencing at the southeast corner of Section 34, Town 86, Range 10; thence west one-half mile; thence north one mile, to intersect the line as it now runs. Which report was adopted and change established accordingly.
The first recorded action of the county authorities relative to erecting a jail was by the Board of Supervisors on the 15th of October, 1861. At that time, James Rice was appointed a committee to consider the subject of a county jail, with instructions to report at the next January meeting.
When the Board assembled in January, 1862, Mr. Rice reported that he had visited the jail at Independence, and recommended the erection of a similar one in Benton.
This report was laid on the table. On the 8th of January, 1862, however, the report was taken from the table and referred to the Committee on Public Buildings, and, on motion of J. Rice, S. G. Livermore was added to said committee, to act upon said report only.
January 9, 1862:
The report of the Committee on Public Buildings on Jail was adopted. That is to say: "We, the Committee on Public Buildings, recommend to the Board of Supervisors that a jail be built according to the specifications herewith submitted, to wit; The walls of white oak lumber, 2x6, securely spiked together with large iron spikes. The joist for floor, 1½ by 8 inches, 6 inches apart. The floor to be of two inch oak plank, thoroughly spiked down; the ceiling and joists above, same as below. The front door to be made of double oak plank, and fastened together with wrought iron nails, and clinched. The partition to be built same as outside walls. Inside doors to be made of double oak lumber, and spiked together "herring-bone style," with privy in back end of hall. Said materials to be purchased this present Winter, that the building may be built early in the Spring of 1862; and to be covered in a cheap, substantial style, and the foundation to be built of stone and flagged under the floor outside – within, boarded with pine siding. The windows to be of twelve lights, each 8x10, properly secured by iron grates and shutters on the outside. Said building to be located in one corner of the Court House yard."
Same day, the Board "resolved that the Building Committee be instructed to procure the necessary oak lumber for a jail, and to select a site for the same, and report their doings at the next meeting of the Board."
June 5, 1862, $300 was appropriated to buy materials for jail, and the committee instructed to buy such material, and to let the building contract to the lowest responsible bidder.
June 30, the Jail Committee’s report showed that a certain amount of lumber and material had been purchased, and recommended the jail to be built on the north side of the Court House yard, about opposite the north window, and to front the south, which was adopted.
The location of the building was subsequently changed to the northeast corner of the Court House Square. The contract was awarded to Messrs. Parmeter & Sanderson, by whom the jail was built in the Summer and Fall. It contained two cells and a passage-way between them. Here it remained for seven or eight years; but toward the end of the Township system, some of the authorities conceived the idea that a larger and better jail was necessary, and about 1870, it was sold to Mr. Davis, removed to the bank of the river, near the corner of Main and Polk streets, converted into a dwelling and still remains such.
The Board submitted the proposition to build a jail, to the people of the county in 1870, but it was defeated by a vote of 2,134 to 763. Since that time the county has been without a jail, as the people have refused to make the necessary appropriation. The question may be submitted to the people again this year, 1878.
About 1862, the matter of a free bridge across the Cedar River began to be agitated. A toll bridge had been built, and it was thought that the county should purchase and make it a free bridge. The question was brought before the Board of Supervisors, and June 3, 1862, it was voted that "the matter of a free bridge across the Cedar River at Vinton, together with the papers, be referred to the Committee on Roads and Bridges, with instructions to confer with the present owners of said bridge as to terms, etc., and to report at this session."
On June 7th, a resolution directing the purchase of the structure of J. C. Traer & Co., was postponed, but it was purchased for $1,100.
The care of the county poor also early attracted the attention of the Board of Supervisors, and on the 6th day of June, 1862, a resolution was adopted declaring:
That it is necessary that a county farm be owned by the county, for the support of the poor, and that a special committee of three be appointed to consider the matter, and report to the Board of Supervisors at their next meeting, in September, 1862.
The resolution was adopted, and Messrs. Dwiggins, Ruffcorn and Austin were appointed such committee. This did not result in any tangible action, and on January 7, 1863, the Committee on Poor were instructed to inquire into the expediency of purchasing a farm for the county poor during the ensuing year.
September 7, 1863, on motion of Mr. Rice, the Board voted that the Committee on Poor be instructed to report something definitely in reference to the purchase of a poor farm. And afterward, on the same day, the said committee reported in favor of purchasing a poor farm, not to exceed $3,000, nor more than seven miles from the county seat. Whereupon, the Board voted that the report be so altered as to limit the said farm to 200 acres, and the same be referred back to the committee for a more specific report.
September 9, 1863, the Board ordered the following question to be submitted to the voters at the next general election:
Shall the Board of Supervisors of the county of Benton, in the State of Iowa, purchase, for the use of said county, a tract of land not exceeding 200 acres, to be used as a farm for the support of the poor in said county; and appropriate of the funds of said county a sum not exceeding $5,000, for the payment of said lands and the erection of the necessary buildings thereon?
This vote resulted in 861 for and 517 against the poor farm proposition.
January 6, 1864, the Committee on Poor – R. Rowe, W. F. Kirkpatrick and George Bergen – were directed to receive proposals for the purchase of a poor farm.
On the 7th of June, this committee submitted a report recommending the Spencer farm as the first choice of the committee. Whereupon, it was voted that the Board as a body visit the premises, and that the afternoon be devoted to that purpose.
The records are silent as to the specific results of their visit, but it seems to have been unsatisfactory, for two days afterward, on the 9th, the Committee on Poor Farm reported in favor or purchasing the farm of Messrs. Gilchrist & Adams. Whereupon the report was adopted.
This purchase appears to have been consummated, as on the 5th of September following, the title was ordered to be placed on file, of the property of M. P. Adam: "Six acres off the south end of the east half of the southeast quarter of Section 22, and the east half of the northeast quarter of Section 27 (80 acres); also, the south end of fractional Lot 3, in Section 23 (20 acres), all in Township 85 north of Range 10, containing in all 106 acres, more or less. And the following of Robert Gilchrist: 75 acres off the north end of the east half of the southeast quarter of Section 22, and the west half of the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 23, all in Township 85 north of Range 10, containing 94 acres, $1,696.49; of Adams, $2,073.40
On the same day, the committee was directed to report next day on what terms immediate possession of the farm could be obtained, and to submit a plan of improvement for the same, in order to make it available at the earliest possible date.
The next day the Committee made report, recommending that the Board make improvement or addition to the Gilchrist house, and the employment of some competent person to take charge of the same; and further, to purchase of Ira Baldwin, who was the occupant at that time, the right of possession at $100; fourteen acres of corn at $12 per acre, $168.00; and eight tons of hay and pile of straw, $32, making a total of $300; to empower the Committee to make improvements at an expense not to exceed $500, and to rent the south eighty to responsible parties the following year; all of which were adopted by the Board. This Committee further reported, November 15, that they had caused to be erected an additional building at a cost of $725.
January 5, 1865, the Committee on Poor was instructed to advertise in the Vinton Eagle, for proposals to build a two-story house 22x36 feet, to be built at the west end of the house already built on the Poor Farm; and that the Committee be authorized, if necessary, to mortgage the Poor Farm to borrow money to make the improvements contemplated.
When the farm came into the possession of the county, J. S. Eppersen was employed as Steward or Superintendent, Oct. 16, 1866, a contract was made with F. W. Bliss to take charge of the Poor Farm at a salary of $800 per annum, to commence March 1, 1867. But on the 15th of January, 1867, the Board entered into a contract with J. S. Epperson to keep the farm at a salary of $700. Why the Bliss contract was abandoned is not explained by the record. It was soon discovered that the support of the poor cost the county more than before the farm was purchased. It was an expensive experiment under the management it received, says one of the Supervisors, and some members of the Board made an effort to obtain an order for its sale. A large portion of the stock was sold; but those who were determined to sell the entire property went out of office, and the project was abandoned. Prior to 1871, the farm was managed on a contract by Hamilton Eppersen, who received $1,200 a year, and for that sum boarded not to exceed fifteen inmates. If the number exceeded fifteen, he was entitled to additional pay. In 1871, however, this method was abandoned, and Thomas W. Lowe was employed as Steward, at a salary of $500 a year. Mr. Lowe was succeeded by Matthew Brown, and on the 1st of January, 1878, James P. Mitchell became Steward.
Looking Out For No. 1
July 8, 1863, the Supervisors considered the important question of compensation for their services in ministering to the families of volunteers whose producers and protectors had gone to the front with their lives in their hands to maintain the integrity of the Union. After due deliberation, on motion of Mr. J. M. Inman, it was voted that the Supervisors draw their pay for visiting the wives of soldiers, out of the Soldiers’ Relief Fund.
The New Bridge
As early as 1863, the bridge at Vinton appears to have needed attention, and on the 1st of June, Messrs. Dysart, Bowe and Robinson were appointed a Committee "to inquire into the situation of matters pertaining to the Vinton bridge. In 1865, the bridge became unsafe, apparently, for on the 6th of June, of that year, a license was granted to Alvin Clark to operate a ferry at Vinton.
September 6, 1865, the Board appropriated $2,000 to be used in re-building Vinton bridge, to be drawn only when $8,000 more should be raised for the same purpose; and the next day James F. Young, Esq., was selected as the agent of the county, to remove and preserve the old bridge, preparatory to the building of a new one.
The amount specified to be raised (by subscription or otherwise), before the appropriation could be made available, was not provided, and after waiting a year, on the 8th of January, 1866, the resolution adopted September 6, 1865, appropriating $2,000 for a bridge at Vinton, was rescinded, and the following question submitted to a vote of the people, to be held on the second Tuesday in October, 1866: "Shall the Board of Supervisors of the County of Benton, in the State of Iowa, build, erect and construct, on the most approved plan, a free bridge across the Cedar River at or near the town of Vinton, in said county, and appropriate of the funds of said county, the sum of $12,000 for the same."
The election resulted in a vote of 1243 for, and 811 against the proposition, and, on Jan. 9, 1867, the following resolution was passed:
Resolved, That a committee of five be appointed by this Board, three of whom shall be members thereof, and the other two citizens of Vinton, to superintend, plan, direct and let the job of building and completing a good and substantial bridge across the Cedar River at Vinton, at a cost to Benton County not exceeding $13,500.
Under the above resolution, Messrs. Traer, Chenowith and Bergen were appointed on the part of the Board, and Messrs. J. F. Young and Paul Correll, on the part of the citizens of Vinton.
January 15, 1867, the bridge was erected during the season of 1867, by Spaulding, contractor, and was finished in January, 1868.
October 17, 1865, by order of the Board of Supervisors, the name of the town of Norway was changed to Florence; but the railroad station, at that point, is still called and known as Norway. (See Florence.)
In October, 1867, James Seeley was appointed jailer; but the order was rescinded in January, 1868.
"An Act establishing Circuit and General term Courts, and to define the powers and jurisdiction thereof," approved April 3, 1868, ended the County Probate Judge system and made a radical and, many think, an unwise change in the mode of conducting important public business. By the terms of the act, Circuit Judges were to be elected at the election in October, 1868, and enter upon their duties on the 1st day of January, 1869. The act gave to the Circuit Court the exclusive jurisdiction of all probate business and also of all appeals and writs of error from Justice Courts, Mayors’ Courts and all other inferior tribunals, either in civil or criminal cases. Benton County was included in the First Circuit of the Eighth Judicial District, and after the Judges were elected, terms of the court for Benton County were ordered on the first Monday in January, the first Monday in May, the third Monday in August and the first Monday in November. The first term was adjourned from the first Monday to the 19th of January, 1869, by order of the Circuit Judge, Hon. William E. Miller, and was duly opened on that day. Present, William E. Miller, Judge; Henry M. Wilson, Sheriff; and B. R. Sherman, Clerk. Judge Miller was succeeded by George R. Struble in 1871, who soon resigned, and William J. Haddock filled the vacancy. The present Judge, Hon. John McKean, assumed the duties of his office in 1872.
The establishment of the Circuit Court terminated the office of County Judge as such January 1, 1869, but on the 7th day of April, 1868, an act, entitled "An act to provide for the election of County Auditors, and to define their powers and duties, and making County Judges ex officio County Auditors," was approved, which provided that at the general election preceding the expiration of the term of office of the present County Judge in any county, and every two years thereafter, there should be elected in each organized county in the State, a County Auditor, whose term of office should commence on the first Monday in January following his election, and who should hold his office for the term of two years. By this act the office of County Judge, as such, ceased on the 1st day of January, 1869; but the incumbent of the office at that time was made ex officio County Auditor after that date until an Auditor should be elected and qualified. The Auditor was made Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, and was required to perform all the duties in relation to the school fund and school lands, until then performed by the Clerk of the District Court. The Clerk of the District Court and the County Recorder were eligible to the office of Auditor, and the election of that officer was fixed in the odd-numbered years.
On the 1st day of January, 1869, George M. Gilchrist was County Judge, and became ex officio the first Auditor of Benton County; but he resigned in January, 1869, and was succeeded by J. L. Geddes. At the election in October, 1869, Edward M. Evans was elected County Auditor, who entered upon the duties of the office on the first Monday in January, 1870. Auditor Evans was an efficient officer, and the people of the county have testified their appreciation by re-electing him his own successor four times, and he still fills the office.
County Supervisorship Established
By "An act to amend Article 11 of Chapter 22 of the Revision of 1860, approved April 14, 1870, the Board of Supervisors was reduced from one for each civil township to twenty in the county, and three to be elected by the people of the county in October. These were to serve respectively one, two and three years, and after the first election, on e Supervisor was to be elected annually, to serve three years.
In October, 1870, James McQuinn, Isaac N. Chenoweth and John Knapp were elected. These gentlemen met a the Court House, in Vinton, January 2, 1871, organized by choice of James McQuinn, Chairman, and the unwieldy and expensive system of Township Supervisor was ended.
The law provided that the number of County Supervisors might be increased to five or seven by a popular vote. The question, "Shall the number of Supervisors be increased to seven?" was submitted to the people and wisely negatived by a vote of 2,085 noes to 770 ayes.
The Eden Township Mutual Insurance Company was organized January 27, 1872, with J. M. Inman as President; S. Potter, Vice President; S. H. Dixon, Secretary. Directors: R. M. Wilson, D. Beller, Eden; James Dickson, Sr., Big Grove; Paul Correll, Taylor; J. L. Budd, Canton; A. L. Wyman, Homer.
In March, 1876, the company had 114 members, and the amount at risk was $153,532.
The First Murder Trial
The first trial for murder committed in this county was in October, 1875, although very early in its history there was a trial on change of venue from Linn County, and about 1867 another from Tama. It is also said that an Irishman named Howard was indicted some years ago for the murder of another Irishman in a drunken frolic at Blairstown; but before he could be arrested he was tried for a brutal murder in Des Moines, and after conviction has hanged to a lamp-post by an indignant populace.
In the Spring of 1873, Mrs. Julia Burk, of Norway, died under suspicious circumstances, and her husband was indicted for causing her death by brutally beating and kicking the poor woman. But, in the expressive language of a Benton County official, "he skinned out," and was never brought to trial.
September 10, 1875, Claus Seick was shot and killed at a dance in a saloon at Watkins. Circumstances pointed to Austin Thoman as the perpetrator of the foul murder. He had borrowed a pistol shortly before; the same pistol was found near the scene of the murder, and Thoman was there also. He was arrested, and at the October term was indicted for the murder. On the 8th day of October he was arraigned, and pleaded "not guilty." On the 13th a jury was impaneled, and the prisoner appeared for trial by I. M. Preston. W. A. Tewksbury and John Van Meter, his counsel. The prosecution was conducted by M. P. Smith, District Attorney. The evidence was circumstantial, but after two days’ hearing, the case was submitted to the jury, who returned a verdict of "guilty of Murder in the second degree," October 15th. On the 16th, the defense moved for a new trial, which was overruled by the court, Judge Rothrock presiding, by whom the prisoner was sentenced to fifteen years in the penitentiary, and to pay the costs of prosecution, taxed at $448.19. Thoman was committed to the penitentiary at Anamosa, and afterward made an attempt to escape, but was shot and killed by the guard while swimming the river.
January 5, 1869, the name of Grand Gulf Addition to Vinton was changed to Alexander’s Addition to Vinton.
April 6, 1876, it was ordered by the Board that the Auditor be "directed to purchase of the city of Vinton, for Benton County, Iowa, Lot 8, Block 6, original town of Fremont, now called Vinton; said lot to be used for a jail site; also, that the sum of $600 be appropriated and placed in the Auditor’s hands to pay for said lot when the title shall be shown as perfect." Pursuant to the above order, the Auditor purchased said lot April 18, 1876, for the amount specified, $600. The county now owns a site for a jail, if the people shall vote the necessary appropriation to build it.
The Iron Bridge
The wooden bridge at Vinton, built in 1867, had become unsafe for travel in 1876. When built, the appropriation was insufficient for building stone abutments, and the ends of the bridge rested on piles, which had become weakened by decay. On the 7th of April, 1876, the Board of Supervisors made a contract with M. Donlan for the construction of north and south abutments under the Cedar River bridge. These were built, but the superstructure was pronounced unsafe, and a contract was made with the Clinton Bridge Company for the construction of a superstructure of iron, at a contract price of $14,200, and the bridge was completed in that year. An additional pier was built, and the bridge cost, including that and the abutments, about $20,000.
In Board of Supervisors, June 7, 1878, the following resolution was read and adopted:
Whereas, a petition has been presented to the Board asking that the township of Taylor be divided so that that part outside of the incorporated city of Vinton shall constitute one township, and that part inside said corporate limits another; and
Whereas, It appears to the Board that the law governing such cases has been complied with; therefore, be it
Resolved, That the prayer of the petitioners be granted, and that the territory lying within the lines described as follows, viz.: Commencing at the southeast corner of Section No. (16) Sixteen, Township (85) Eighty-five north, Range No. (10) Ten west of the Fifth Principal Meridian, thence north to the northeast corner of the southeast quarter of said section, in said township and range; thence west to the center of Cedar River; thence up and along the center of the said Cedar River to a point directly east of the center of Section No. (17) Seventeen, in said township and range; thence west to the center of said Section No. (17) Seventeen; thence south to the southwest corner of the northwest quarter of the southeast quarter of Section No. (20) Twenty, in said township and range; thence east to the southeast corner of the northeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section No. (21) Twenty-one, in said township and range; thence north to the place of beginning, shall be known as the township of Vinton; and all of said Taylor Township outside of said boundary line be known as Taylor Township. Also, that the next general election for said township of Vinton shall be held at the Court House in Vinton, and the next general election for said Taylor Township shall be held at the Fair Grounds south of Vinton.
A Fiendish Murder
In November, 1874, Carl Allers, a farmer living in Kane Township, Benton County, suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Search was made for him at the time, but no traces of the missing man could be discovered. Meanwhile, his nephew, Fred. Allers, remained on the arm, and after the search was abandoned, quietly settled down to work.
More than three years passed, until in the Spring of 1878, a brother of the missing man employed a detective to ascertain his fate, if possible. The detective, A. H. Shoemaker, arrived, and quietly commenced work. He soon discovered circumstances that pointed strongly to the nephew as the murderer of his uncle. He was arrested, brought to Vinton and committed to the city calaboose for examination, which was set for Thursday, June 6, 1878, before W. B. Reynolds, Sr., Justice of the Peace.
Between the time of the arrest and the day set for examination, the German citizens in Allers’ neighborhood worked themselves to a degree of excitement that threatened mischief to the accused. This excitement seemed to be much increased by the discovery of several forgeries, said to have been committed burglaries, in addition to the foul murder of which the Germans in that section were satisfied he was guilty. Some time in the night of Wednesday they came to Vinton, a hundred strong, more or less, with the purpose, there seems to be no doubt, of meting out swift and condign punishment upon the culprit. Sheriff Smith, however, was advised of the movements, prepared for it, and there were no outward demonstrations. At the preliminary examination, Nichols & Cooper appeared for the State, and Traer & Bunham and Tewksbury & Worthen for the defense. Sheriff Smith, the first witness, testified, in substance, that the prisoner, Fred. Allers, came to his office with A. H. Shoemaker, May 28, 1878, and said he wanted to talk to him (the Sheriff) about his Uncle Carle. He said he killed his uncle at his stable, early in the morning of November 25, three years ago last Fall, by striking him on the head with a hammer; that he covered the body with straw, near a straw-stack, a short distance from the house; that he then went to Belle Plaine with a load of wheat; that on his return, about 1 o’clock, he dug a hole near where the body had been concealed, and buried it, together with his clothing, except a pair of boots, which he (Fred) afterward wore out. The motive for killing his uncle he stated to be, that he owed him money, above $200, which he could not pay.
W. L. Parmater, Deputy Sheriff, testified that on the morning of May 29, he was one of a party who went to the premises of Allers, In Kane Township; that he examined the ground indicated by Allers as the place where the body of his uncle was buried; that on digging a few inches from the surface he first discovered s small piece of bone; next, fragments of clothing; on further digging, a part of a satchel, clothing, a watch, scraps of leather, bones, etc., were found.
Dr. C. C. Griffin, one of the party in search of the body, testified to the finding of the articles mentioned by the former witness; he testified also that the bones were those of a human being; among them were the breast bone, collar bone, bones of one arm, bones of the wrist, shoulder-blade and vertebrae; also a part of a thigh bone.
No witnesses were introduced by the defense, no argument made, and the fiend was committed to await trial.
June 8, 1878, the Board of Supervisors, deeply impressed with the importance of building a substantial jail building on the lot purchased for that purpose, adopted the following preamble and resolution:
Whereas, There is no jail in Benton County or belonging to said county, in which persons accused or convicted of crime can be safely kept; and
Whereas, It is highly important that a good and substantial jail building should be located and built at Vinton for the use of the county for the purpose aforesaid, therefore, be it
Resolved, That a proposition therefore be submitted to the qualified electors of said county at the general election for the year 1878, authorizing and empowering the Board of Supervisors of said county to contract for and build a jail for the use of said county, to be located at Vinton in said county, the cost of building not to exceed the sum of ten thousand dollars; and also to levy a tax, not to exceed two mills on the dollar on the taxable property of said county, in addition to the usual levy of taxes, at the next annual period for levying taxes after said proposition has been submitted, to pay for the erection of said jail building, and that the whole question, including the sum to be raised and the amount of tax to be levied, be published in the manner provided by law, prior to said general election. The proposition printed on ballots shall be as follows, to wit:
Those voting in favor of the proposition, "For the Jail Proposition and Tax."
Those voting against the proposition, "Against the Jail Proposition and Tax."
The Egypt of Benton County
It has been said that the reign of anarchy, confusion and utter disregard of law which prevailed in Benton County thirty years ago practically ceased about 1854. That is true, in the main, save in one little spot, where, if the fire did not fiercely blaze, it smoldered in the embers, and the old-time spirit was never entirely obliterated. Strange as it may seem, here, in 1878, history repeats itself, and the lawlessness of 1848 is not only repeated, but intensified. This little spot, from which the clouds of the "dark ages" have never been entirely lifted, is a portion of the eastern part of Benton Township, about three miles east of the ancient town of Benton City, and about the same distance north of Shellsburg, near the county line. Here, in the dense timber, has always been a favorite resort and refuge of a class of disreputable characters, thieves and outlaws. It has never been freed from their presence since the first settlement of the country, and it may be called the Egypt of Benton County. The extensive tract of timber in that region renders it almost impossible for an officer of the law to find and arrest an offender.
But for many years after the reign of the horse thieves and Regulators was ended, about 1854, but little was known or heard of this neighborhood. The smoldering fires of lawlessness would occasionally break into a flame, and the community would be startled by some reckless act, until, about ten years ago, there seems to have been trouble among the denizens of that locality, and since that time there have been two parties; and now there are the Regulators, or Vigilantes, who are watching for the others, whom they call thieves, while the thieves are watching for the Regulators. Between them, as, thirty years ago, was the case between the Regulators and horse thieves, there is constant warfare; and as then, there is a complete disregard for law and civil authority.
Burning and Shooting
In 1848, it was lynching and flogging. Men suspected of connection with thieves were compelled to "hug trees" while their bare backs were exposed to the pitiless blows of the whip, or hickory with; but in more modern days, burning and shooting have been the order of the day. Scenes of fire and bloodshed have been enacted that were a disgrace to civilization. For several years, one William Hicks and a family named Jones, had been held in bad repute, and suspected of being connected with much of the mischief and petty thieving that had been going on in that neighborhood for years. Unlike the outlaws of thirty years ago, whose principal occupation was stealing horses and passing counterfeit money, their successors were in the habit of stealing anything they could get their hands upon. Having tried the law as a remedy for these petty outrages, and failed, the Regulators determined to take the law into their own hands. Anonymous letters were sent to Hicks and Jones, warning them to flee from the wrath to come, and leave the country; but without effect. The suspected parties continued to live in the neighborhood, and still the petty depredations continued, until on Monday night, June 10, 1878, a squad of persons unknown visited Hick’s premises and set on fire his two stables and a small farm building near the cabin in which he lived. Aroused by the fire, Hicks came out and was greeted with a volley of musketry. He was wounded in the head and right leg and foot, but "broke" for the brush and made his escape. The Vigilantes then visited Jones’ and fired several volleys at the house, but failing to bring any body out, they dispersed. Since that time several suspected persons and families have left.
On Sunday morning, July 7, 1878, John Mason, who has long sustained a bad character, and well known to the officers of the law, was on his way form Cedar Rapids to the house of his sister, in Benton Township; when near Mills Creek, he became alarmed by something suspicious in the brush, and leaped from the buggy; he was fired upon by a party concealed in the woods, and fell mortally wounded in the hip before he could reach the shelter of the woods. It is said that Millard F. Tracy was about to fire at the fallen man again after he fell, but was prevented by Henry Fisher, and Mason was taken to Fisher’s house where his wounds were dressed, and then he was started off in a wagon to Tracy’s house, accompanied by G. F. McCoy and Charles Hanover. Between twelve and one o’clock, Sunday afternoon, the wounded man was lying on a bed in the southwest corner of the south room in Tracy’s dwelling. Hanover was sitting on the east side of the room. Tracy and McCoy, it is said, were seated at a table on the north side of the north room. At this time a party of ruffians, numbering six or seven, it is said, disguised by wearing hoods drawn over their heads and coats turned inside out, appeared at the door of the house, which was at the west side of the north room. Tracy and McCoy testified that the assassins fired a volley at them as they sat at the table, but did not injure them. However, this may be, and their testimony is not received with implicit credence, the murderers passed into the south room to the bedside of Mason, and perforated his body with bullets. Five wounds, at least, any one of which would have proved fatal, were found by Dr. Langstroth, of Vinton.
Information that a man had been murdered in Benton Township, as above stated, was brought to Vinton in the afternoon, when Sheriff Smith, Coroner Kirkpatrick, Dr. Langstroth, and others started for the scene of blood, and found the dead body of the man lying where he had been murdered. The remains were brought to Vinton, arriving about midnight, and an inquest was held in the morning (Monday July 8), the verdict of the Coroner’s jury being, substantially, that the deceased came to his death at the hands of a party of masked men, by would inflicted by bullets discharged from revolvers.
The body lay exposed to public view on a table in the Court House yard for a time, and presented a most horrible and ghastly spectacle.
It is stated that Mason had several hundred dollars in money in his wallet, and a watch in his vest; the money he took out of the vest pocket and put under his pillow when he lay down in the bed in Tracy’s house; but after his murder, no vest, money or watch could be found.
For cowardly brutality and cold blooded atrocity, this murder of Mason has seldom been equaled in the annals of crime. It was a startling culmination of a long-continued carnival of lawlessness, and awakened the citizens of the county to the necessity of prompt and energetic measures for the termination forever of this terrible state of affairs that has been so long a disgrace to the county. Nothing in the history of Indian warfare can exceed in savage ferocity this cold-blooded murder of Mason. The following extract from the comments of the newspapers on his horrible affair, will make a fitting close for this the latest chapter of Benton county history.
The good name of Benton County is involved in this matter. Every well-disposed citizen is interested in having all concerned in this great crime detected and punished. It matters not what was the character of Mason; he was as much entitled to the protection of the law as any man in the community. It matters not what the character, standing or number of his assassins; justice demands that they be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Mobs and mob executions can under no circumstances be encouraged or tolerated. Let no pains or expense be spared to apprehend and bring to punishment these great offenders against law and order.
The Eclipse of 1869
Every inhabitant of Benton County, save those deprived by misfortune of sight, had ample opportunity to observe the startling phenomena attending the total eclipse of the sun on the afternoon of Aug. 7, 1869, the whole of the county being within the line of the totality, or within the belt 156 miles in breadth in which the body of the moon completely hid the sun from view. In the absence of any local description of the sublime spectacle, recourse is had to an account written by the well-known astronomer and graphic writer, E. Colbert, who was one of the observers from the station at Des Moines. Nothing was specially noticeable during the encroaching motion of the moon, until only a slender crescent of sunlight remained, except a diminution of light, giving a pallid cast to objects in the far horizon. When the disk of the sun was almost covered and the light began to diminish sensibly, chilliness crept into the air, not like the coolness of a Summer evening, but like the biting fingers of a Winter storm. This reduction in temperature was almost awful in its swift approach. Birds and domestic fowls sought their roosts, dogs and horses manifested much uneasiness and in some instances positive terror, and even cattle huddled together in fear at the swiftly approaching darkness.
The corona, as viewed through an excellent glass, was remarkably different from all preconceived notions on the subject, and from all previous descriptions, both in size and shape. It has always been represented as nearly annular (ring formed), of about equal breadth all the way round the edge of the moon, and not more than one-tenth of her apparent diameter. The corona of the 7th was exceedingly irregular in its outline, and in some places projected to a distance fully half the apparent diameter of the moon, or nearly 500,000 miles. The greatest length was almost identical with the direction of the moon’s path across the face of the sun, which very nearly coincided with the plane of the ecliptic. From the east side a mass of light shot out to a distance of five or six digits; it was about thirty degrees wide at the base, and shaped nearly like the remote half of a silver-poplar leaf. Near the moon it shone with an almost uniform white light, but within a short space it broke up into brilliant rays, almost parallel with each other, and all pointing nearly toward the center. Still further out, these rays assumed more of a streaky character, seeming to lie against a darker background, and toward the summit they faded away into a more diffused and milder light, though still distinct and bright. Near the extremity it appeared more like a cumulus cloud, but the central direction of the rays was plainly visible. It melted away into the azure background almost imperceptibly, but the outline was perfect, except at the very extremity of the leaf-shaped mass. On the other side of the disk was a corresponding tongue, but less regular, and extending only about two-thirds as far into the void. This position was more brilliant near the base than its counterpart, and was sharply defined at the very extremity, the rays blending so thickly that it required a steady gaze to separate them. The extent of this portion was about 285,000 miles. One observer saw the light reflected from the moon’s edge at a distance of 54,000 miles from the sun’s body, while the light was reflected from the other edge at a distance of 74,000 miles. The total width of the corona was about 1,600,000 miles.
The broadest mass of covered light was visible on the left (in the southwest quarter). This spring from an arc of about fifty degrees on the moon’s circumference to a height of three digits, or 234,000 miles. This mass was more diffused than either of the others, and separated near the extremity into narrow leaflets of light, something like the flame from a thinly spread bed of coals, only there was no red, the light being pure white, with a faint coruscation. Opposite to this, on the right, was another leaf-spread mass of four digits in height, on a basis of twenty to twenty-five degrees, and like a parabola in general outline, which was, however, broken up on the outer side into jets. Another broad sheet sprung up on the northeast, toward the zenith, nearly rectangular in shape, and three to four digits high, the upper third part being divided irregularly into tongues of light, formed by assemblages of rays. Between these large masses the circumference of the lunar orb was filled up by radiate lines of brilliant light, extending on an average a digit and a half in height, of 125,000 miles from the sun’s surface. It was noticeable that this continuous band was the narrowest on the lower left-hand side (southwest by south), averaging about two-thirds of the width elsewhere, and as badly broken on its entire outline, as if the regularity were interfered with by the action of the string of bead-like protuberances jutting up through the interior portion of its volume.
The full amount of this irregularity was not perceptible with the naked eye, but the general distribution of long and short rays was the same. To the unaided vision the narrower portions of the corona were visible and bright; but the tongue-like extensions faded out into nothingness, whereas the telescope gave a definite outline all around, except at the summit of the first-named protrusion. The apparent color of the protuberances was a pinkish red. The instant that the last film of light had vanished, leaving the sun in utter darkness, and simultaneously with the out-flash of the corona, the line of protuberances on the south limb burst into view. Soon after the western edge of the moon had advanced sufficiently to uncover the protuberances on that side, and the four largest remained distinctly visible till the last glimmer of light was visible, when they vanished with the corona, leaving the world in the deep darkness of total eclipse. A moment passed, and those occupying elevated positions could see the shadow of approaching darkness moving toward them swiftly as the ripples are raised on a placid lake by a Summer breeze, but awful, intense and terrible – fearful as a procession of spirits in the lower circle of the "Inferno." A few seconds of expectancy and the light was gone. It was an interval of absolute silence and of total darkness; for the eyes of the observer had been contracted by the rays of the sun, and needed two or three seconds to dilate sufficiently to distinguish any object whatever. Nothing terrestrial could be seen, the darkness was too great; but by looking upward the stars could be noticed to creep out, one by one, until over a dozen could be discerned with the naked eye.